The Sunnyvale, Calif., company on Monday released a beta version of its next Yahoo Messenger client, officially numbered Version 6.0 but being marketed simply as the "All-New Yahoo Messenger." In the release, Yahoo has significantly redone the look and feel and added new personalization options that let users accompany their messages with their own photos as well as graphical representations of people, called avatars.
Users can customize the avatars with thousands of combinations of clothing items and accessories, and they can choose different personal photos or avatars for each of their IM contacts, said Lisa Pollock Mann, senior director of messaging products at Yahoo. Yahoo also added 24 of what it calls "audibles," or animated expressions that can be added into a message to convey emotion.
"IM is not just about chat anymore," Mann said. "People want to do more with IM. They want to be more self-expressive and use IM as a communications hub and easily get to the things they want to do online."
With Version 6.0, Yahoo has more closely linked its other portal services into the Messenger client. Users can listen to Yahoos LAUNCHcast Internet radio service directly from Yahoo Messenger and display the title of a song being played alongside their IM status information.
Yahoo Search, which was relaunched in February following the dropping of Google Inc.s search results, gains more prominence in the new Yahoo Messenger. While the previous version included a search query box in the client, it now provides shortcuts to Yahoo Search within an IM conversation, Mann said. Users can either click a search box to retrieve results on a Web page or enter the shortcut "s:" within a chat session and retrieve the top three results directly within the conversation, she said.
Yahoo also has introduced a series of new multiplayer games developed by Yahoo Games that are played within an IM window, and it has enhanced the integration with Yahoo Address Book so contacts are available directly in IM.
"The more they use Yahoo services, the more loyal users are to the Yahoo brand," Mann said of the added integration.
Yahoos introduction of its Messenger upgrade follows a string of updates from the major consumer IM services. Microsoft Corp.s MSN group last week announced MSN Messenger 6.2, with a focus on new online games.
Earlier last week, America Online Inc.s ICQ subsidiary unveiled ICQ 4.0 with a new architecture that allows developers to add features without upgrading the client.
Another new feature in the Yahoo Messenger upgrade is a more functional stealth-mode feature that lets users pick and choose the friends and groups of contacts for whom they appear invisible while online, rather than appearing invisible to everyone.
The new Yahoo Messenger is slated for a full production release at the end of May, Mann said.