MSN to Release Updated Chat Client

Next week Microsoft will launch a new beta version of MSN Messenger. MSN Messenger 7 borrows personalization options from Microsoft's ThreeDegrees test bed, improves contact management and features keenly honed integration with MSN Search. What's more, Redmond is taking the training wheels off of new transactional services.

The ThreeDegrees concept was the brainchild of Microsoft's maverick NetGen product group and was developed with the goal of facilitating social interaction within a group of friends or family members so that "they can do fun things together." Pleased to be of service, the ThreeDegrees group has given the MSN product team a "wink" and a "nudge."

Microsoft describes Winks as animations with sound that grab the attention of IM contacts and convey personal expression. America Online has a name for these too - "AIM Expressions". While Winks make users the center of attention; Nudges provoke attention. Nudges alert IM partners by making notification windows vibrate.

Other options include the ability to set status before log in, including an "invisibility" mode. Microsoft has also exposed display pictures in more areas of the MSN client. In addition, a new contact management feature keeps users connected with contacts.

The integration of Winks into the MSN client comes as no surprise. Microsoft has been experimenting with value added transaction services such as Avatars in Korea and emotion packs in the United Kingdom. The Messenger 7 beta broadens tests of this business model to include background wallpapers, packages of emoticons, and display pictures. The tests will be conducted in the United States, UK and France.

"Many of the features you described are enticing, such as search integration and extension of Avatars, the latter feature which demonstrates the increasing revenue opportunity vendors like Microsoft recognize in IM," Senior Jupiter Research Analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

Wilcox continued, "I know that Avatars are a big hit for Microsoft in South Korea. Like other IM vendors, Microsoft apparently sees potential revenue through personalization. Based on the information you provided, the company is testing to see how willing people are to pay for emoticons and other goodies."

Rival America Online has already begun to cash in on personalization. In conjunction with the release of the AIM 5.9 clients, AOL rolled out year-long and monthly subscription plans for access to their collection AIM expressions, buddy wallpapers, buddy sounds, 2-D buddy and animated "SuperBuddy" icons.

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