Yahoo, MSN to Form Worlds Largest IM Community

By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2005-10-12

Yahoo, MSN to Form Worlds Largest IM Community

MSN and Yahoo Messenger will be glued together, forming the worlds largest instant messaging community at some 275 million combined users, the services companies announced on Wednesday.

In this era of IM viruses and concerns over privacy, both Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. pledged to keep consumer security and privacy first and foremost as they work to integrate the two IM services in the coming months.

The resulting integration, due out in the second quarter of next year, will gives users of both services typical IM abilities: to tell when their friends are online, to share some emoticons, to put through free PC-to-PC phone calls and to easily add new contacts from either service to their friends list.

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The companies will base security on SIMPLE (SIP [Session Initiation Protocol] for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions) protocol mechanisms.

SIMPLE enhancements add instant messaging and presence to the SIP protocol. Developed by the SIMPLE working group of the IETF, SIMPLE adds buddy list subscriptions and notifications and instant messaging commands.

SIMPLE has two modes: Session mode sets up the call and provides features including conferencing. Page mode uses no call setup and is more like a short messaging service for delivering one-shot messages and announcements.

IM heavyweight America Online Inc. said, back in 2001, that it would support SIMPLE, but subsequently abandoned its plans and now uses proprietary standards.

At any rate, the MSN-Yahoo deal is historic, being the first time the fragmented IM market has seen two providers come together to deliver the integration that consumers have long requested.

Being able to IM with friends and family that use other IM services is the most requested service from users, said Blake Irving, corporate vice president of the MSN Communication Services and Member Platform group at Microsoft. "Its been bubbling up on the request list for years."

Irving said that Microsoft has long believed in IM interoperability and has been working to make it a reality for years.

Next Page: Overcoming hurdles.

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But to get there, the hurdles have been, and will be, great, he said. "Weve overcome numerous technical, business and detailed user experience [feedback] to make it a reality," he said.

But when asked whether that years-long effort has included talks with AOL, Irving declined to comment.

The pressure this will put on AOL is obvious.

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During a teleconference, Irving and Dan Rosensweig, chief operating officer at Yahoo, downplayed how popular AOL is, saying that outside of the United States, its popularity tapers off.

The Radicati Group Inc. has reported that Yahoo and Microsoft will now command upward of 44 percent of the market. Other research from comScore Media Metrix backs up Microsoft and Yahoos claims that the integration will give the two companies the largest IM community globally, with a combined MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger reaching 33.5 million unique users each month, compared with 23 million AIM users.

AOL had no immediate comment.

When asked whether the integration will encompass outbound calling, Irving and Rosensweig said that both companies are making sure that VOIP (Voice over IP) is integrated as an "integral point of the relationship."

"Thats a priority in the immediate term," Irving said.

Voice will be restricted to PC-to-PC connections, however, Rosensweig said. Additional IM features, like making phone calls or text messaging to a cell or landline phone, arent a focus for the short term. "We just want to get the basics right," he said.

Thats a blow to telephone companies that provide a bridge between the IM windows and traditional phones or cell phones. For now, they are left out of the financial opportunity of the largest-ever community of potential Internet telephone users. For instance, IM users can, and some do, pay a few pennies a minute to make calls from their IM window to cell phone or traditional home phones. To enable that, IM makers hire companies such as Level 3 Communications, a major communications network operator, to connect the calls. A Level 3 representative had no immediate comment.

Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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