Yahoo! Pushing Punchier Instant Messaging

The fight for IM supremacy gets hotter as a leading player bolsters its offering.
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Yahoo! (YHOO) launched a new-and-improved version of its instant messaging software Monday.

The new edition of Yahoo! Messenger, which the company started previewing a month ago, more tightly integrates several different Yahoo! features into IM, thus embodying one of the major themes that the Sunnyvale, Calif., Net media giant hammered away at

during its analyst day presentation earlier this month.

That knitting together of numerous features, Yahoo! has said, will help shore up its position as the go-to spot for information, communication and entertainment on the Internet, despite the perceived threat from soon-to-go-public Google.

As other companies try to duplicate what Yahoo! is doing throughout the world, CEO Terry Semel said at the analyst day presentation, Yahoo! is in a position where it can improve the quality of the services it offers, "not start them from scratch."

Said Semel, "I think we have an unbelieveable advantage." On Monday, Yahoo! rose 69 cents to $29.24.

That said, Yahoo! isn't the only online company seeking to cement the loyalty of its users and increase usage of various features by integrating them with instant messaging software.

Time Warner's

(TWX)

America Online and

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

MSN each offer instant messaging services, with various features, to Internet users.

In fact, one of the more contentious issues in the approval process for the merger of America Online and Time Warner was the ground rules under which the merged company could add new features to its IM service. The outcry over possible unfair competition by AOL eventually died down, and all the players continue to search for ways to make the widely used services as lucrative as they are ubiquitous.

Among other features of the new Yahoo! Messenger, users can reach Yahoo!'s Launchcast Internet radio service, their Yahoo! address book, games and search from their messaging window.

Other add-ons are the ability to create new avatars, or graphic self-representations of the user, and to use talking, animated characters in messages -- a step up from all the variations on smiley faces that have been available to users of instant messaging software.

To promote the new IM software, Yahoo! plans a contest that's an online version of reality TV shows in which contestants are eliminated episode by episode. In Yahoo!'s contest, which will launch June 1, seven pairs of people will carry on public instant message conversations each evening. Every evening, the pair judged least popular, or least interesting, will be dropped from the contest, leaving the last remaining pair to win a free trip to Hawaii.