Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online is stepping up its efforts to open its instant messaging platform to developers. That should help it shore up its position versus rivals in the IM race, all of which are dying to get Internet users' attention.

Not too long ago, AOL said it was allowing developers to tinker around with its IM program AIM, to provide specific types of chat applications for specific needs. Now, AOL is opening up AIM to developers who specialize in Linux, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Macintosh and Pocket PC platforms, and the Java programming language.

Among the capabilities included in this most recent expansion of AIM's new openness with independent developers are AIM Bots, PC-to-PC calling, and location services.

AOL said that it currently has 45,000 developers working to do new and different things with AIM. The company said in its press release that developers have come up with a few interesting ways to integrate AIM into popular Internet activities, such as a 3-D avatar-based IM program for teens, a virtual nightclub, and a version that's designed with online gamers in mind.

It's no surprise that many of the Internet giants are currently welcoming developers with open arms in the hopes that some of their services might get in front of Internet users in innovative new ways. User-generated content and mashups are big news these days. Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) recently opened up to mashups, and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) followed suit with its "Summer of Green" feature.

Given that IM is one of the hottest applications on the Internet, all of the heavyweights will want to try not only to protect their existing client bases, but also to expand them. AIM has long been a leader in instant messaging (according to March data from comScore, AIM has 43 million users here in the U.S.), but it faces competition from both Yahoo!, latecomer Google, and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). (In fact, comScore recently reported that while AIM may be all the rage here in the U.S., MSN Messenger is actually the top IM client used on a global basis.) And of course, who could forget eBay's (NASDAQ:EBAY) high-profile acquisition of Skype?

That kind of competition makes the need for innovation quite clear. Opening up a popular chat client like AIM to the crowds is one good way to stave off the competition as it vies for a piece of the instant-messaging pie, not to mention the spirit of user-driven innovation that's galvanizing online communities and services. Given that AOL's old-school Internet service has been under fire as times have changed, Time Warner investors are likely relieved to see AOL responding to recent trends.

Time Warner and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations, and Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Take your favorite Foolish investing service for a free, 30-day trial.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.