RealTime IT News

Talking (Virtually) Face-to-Face

Yahoo! Inc. Tuesday integrated Webcam functionality into its Yahoo! Messenger service, allowing for virtual face-to-face communications over the Internet, whether typing or talking.

The portal, which has been seeking ways to expand its revenue stream beyond online advertising, signed a marketing agreement with Logitech Inc., a maker of Webcams, to co-market Logitech's QuickCam family of products.

Starting in July, all Logitech cameras sold in North America and certain countries in Europe, and Australia will be bundled with Yahoo! Messenger. Financial arrangements were not disclosed.

Yahoo! said it is "the first instant messaging service to integrate Webcam functionality and make it immediately available to consumers and businesses."

"People have tried to humanize electronic communications by using emoticons, but this new capability will more fully enable nonverbal exchange to occur online," said Lillian Beeson, professor of communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

Logitech said the agreement also includes Yahoo! GeoCities, which will incorporate Webcam functionality.

Users of services such as the CUseeMe Networks (recently merged with First Virtual Communications) have been able to use Webcams for some time, but this move marks the first time a major instant message service has added such functionality. Yahoo!'s Messenger service competes with similar services from Microsoft and America Online, and the video service clearly will give it a boost until the others catch up.

The new service offers some helpful features. Yahoo! Messenger users with Webcams can know who on their Friends List has a Webcam and when it is available; preview their own image on their Webcam; invite others to view their Webcam images; and pause their Webcam while it is broadcasting to control what viewers see.

Users can choose to allow everyone or just a select group of people to view their Webcam images, or set a preference so that other users must ask permission each time before viewing.

"By bringing people face-to-face with friends, family and colleagues we're introducing a truly personalized experience that makes Yahoo! Messenger even more essential to people's lives," said Lisa Pollock, director of Messaging Products at Yahoo!.

In early May Yahoo! launched an enhanced version of the Yahoo! Messenger service that allows users to make reduced-rate international telephone calls from their PCs.

Yahoo's message app had 11.7 million users in May, according to Jupiter Media Metrix figures. AOL's IM application had 25.5 million and Microsoft's service on the MSN network had 18.4 million. ICQ (an AOL unit) had 8 million.