Yahoo, MSN to Form Worlds Largest IM Community

Yahoo and Microsoft plan a very basic instant messaging experience, which delays a long-sought opportunity for telephone companies.

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.