RealTime IT News

Yahoo Brings High-Quality Video to IM

One of the hot new trends in the world of public instant messaging (IM) is giving users the ability to go beyond typed text. The most popular way lately to do this is to give people the ability to send video of themselves typing away in IM conversations. By doing this, emoticons essentially go "live," because users can actually see reactions from one another as they type away.

Already, nanoCom Corp.'s BuddyVision and Logitech offer products that let people view one another while IM'ing. BuddyVision works only with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), while Logitech's software operates with both AIM and MSN Messenger. Other products exist, too, and video messaging comes built into Microsoft's Windows XP operating system.

Now, though, Yahoo Inc. has leap-frogged them all. Yahoo, which says it was the first to offer video IM via its Yahoo Messenger client, is now offering high-quality video transmissions with the program. Yahoo says its new "Super Webcam" can stream video in real time up to 20 frames per second. By comparison, movies shot on film run at 24 frames per second, while broadcast-quality video runs at 30 frames per second.

Yahoo Messenger Super Webcam also offers higher resolution, the ability to zoom, higher frame rates and a choice of two window sizes -- small (160x120 pixels) and large (320x240 pixels), making it easier to see friends and family up close.

To use Super Webcam, users on both sides of the IM conversation must have both a broadband connection and version 5.5 of the Yahoo Messenger software. Users also need to have the ability to connect to one friend at a time. A Web-enabled camera is also needed, of course.

The ability to stream video is much more than just eye candy for Yahoo -- in the Web cam environment, Yahoo said it has surpassed the 6 million user milestone.

Yahoo is also improving its IMVironments feature, which now has a patent pending with Uncle Sam. Now, IMVironments can use animated emoticons directly within the messaging window, as part of their conversations. Users can now "roll" their eyes, "raise" their eyebrows and "applaud," among many other actions. A total of 29 animated emoticons are now available on Yahoo Messenger, officials said.

Already, users can download different IM environments with IMVironments, which are themed backgrounds with conversations that appear directly in the instant messaging window. These IMVironments can be shared virally among friends. Not only can users download generic IMVironments like Doodle, Chess, Hearts Falling and Snowflake, marketers can develop environments that can include streaming video and other features. Already, companies like United Media, Sanrio, Verizon Wireless, Sony, Dodge and Kellogg's have specially branded IMVironments.

The new 5.5 version of Yahoo Messenger is available immediately for those who have Windows-based PCs. A new version of the software for the Macintosh environment that includes much of the same functionality as the new PC version is in beta and available from the Yahoo Messenger site.

Using both internal figures and a research report from comScore Inc.'s newly acquired Media Metrix service, Yahoo says its Messenger users sent nearly 13 billion messages in July 2002, an increase of 139% over the past year. Yahoo is also claiming the "fastest-growing IM service" crown, with an increase of 19% in total unique visitors over the past six months. Yahoo Messenger has the highest average minutes spent, too, and exceeds AIM and MSN, the company said.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.