ICQ 4.0 includes the introduction of a platform called ICQ Xtraz through which ICQ, partners and eventually users can create and deliver new features and services to the IM client.
Using an open application programming interface (API), developers can create ICQ Xtraz in Flash, HTML or DHTML. The new features then integrate into the client and are dynamically loaded from ICQs server. Users can pick and choose the Xtraz features they want and use them without needing to update the client, an approach that will reduce the number of new client releases for users, said Orey Gilliam, ICQs general manager.
ICQ already has begun making the ICQ API available to partners, including online dating site LavaLife Inc. New features in Version 4.0, including games and a greeting card sender, also are being delivered through the Xtraz approach, officials said.
In May, ICQ is planning to launch video functionality for its client through an Xtraz add-on, said Ronen Arad, director of product management at Israel-based ICQ. Also in the works is integration of access to ICQ message boards, interest groups and multiparty chat rooms from the Web into the ICQ IM client through Xtraz add-ons, he said. Those additions, as well as a quick way to enter ICQs new social-network service called ICQ Universe from within the IM client, are expected in the next few months.
"We wanted to bring the community features on the Web into the client to make it easier for users to interact," Arad said.
Gilliam said that by the end of the year ICQ plans to open the Xtraz platform to users, who can create their own specialized features through the API. For now, ICQ is selecting the partners for the earliest development.
ICQs push to open its client to new applications and features from partners and even users is different from the other major consumer IM services, such as AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger, said Genelle Hung, a market analyst at The Radicati Group Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif. With the Xtraz platform, ICQ is focusing more on community and social networking features, she said.
"You have the option of the bare client or having a fully featured one with the greeting cards and games," Hung said. "Theyre going with the client as the window to the world approach."
Along with the Xtraz platform, the new ICQ release includes a revamped messaging interface called "Super Message" that helps limit the number of open windows by grouping together IM functions. It also includes a feature called "Follow Me," which lets users forward their IM messages to cell phones.
ICQ 4.0 will be available Tuesday in an English version, with other languages to follow. ICQ, which was purchased by AOL in 1998, has 175 million worldwide subscribers and about 8 million active daily users. Last year, AOL provided interoperability between AIM and ICQ so members could message between the services.
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