Yahoo! Enhances IM With Free VoiP

With instant messaging becoming as hotly competitive among the major portals as search advertising or e-mail hosting, Yahoo! Wednesday said it is testing an upgrade of its Messenger instant-message service by enhancing PC users' ability to make free worldwide voice calls. The upgrade integrates its existing voice feature--which currently allows users who are logged onto Yahoo!'s PC Messenger to converse in real time and leave voice mail messages--with a call-history archive as well as free ringtones.

The revamped service also improves the ability to share photos and add entries into personal Web logs. Yahoo! is linking IM blogs through its Yahoo! 360 offering--still in limited release--as well as music, through the new Yahoo! Music Unlimited service.

Yahoo! also said it will include better junk mail filters as well, improving spam protection.

According to comScore Media Metrix, demand for e-mail and instant messenger programs soared in April as the leading providers of online communication tools updated and heavily promoted their products. Microsoft, for instance, released a new version of its MSN Messenger program, resulting in a 24 percent increase in unique visitors in March.



Rival Instant Messaging provider America Online upgraded its service last week, adding new features such as a revised browser window and the ability for members to create blogs. And AOL is currently testing improved IM software with the code name Triton. In the future, AIM users will be able to use the AOL Internet Phone service, recently made available to AOL subscribers who pay extra.

AOL Wednesday also announced plans to integrate its instant messaging service into Turner Broadcasting System's upcoming game service, GameTap. The service will allow subscribers to play popular and classic games--and a customized version of AIM will be integrated into GameTap, allowing users to chat during game play, and invite their friends to play the games available in Turner's network.

Microsoft's MSN Messenger and America Online's AIM both currently offer similar Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, services, which enable PC users to make free calls. Skype Technologies also offers chat and file sharing similar to instant messaging--and users can make free PC-to-PC calls, and can call ordinary phones for a fee.

Yahoo!'s service will be available in 18 localized versions in a number of countries including the United States, China, France, India, and Italy.

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