Yahoo: Would you pay to open up IM?

In an attempt to gauge demand for paid services on its Yahoo Messenger application, the company releases a survey hinting that paid, interoperable IM services could be on the way.

In an attempt to gauge demand for paid services on its instant message application, Yahoo released a survey hinting that paid, interoperable IM services could be on the way for the portal giant.

"Assume the following: Yahoo Messenger is considering introducing a new service that would allow you to use Yahoo Messenger to communicate with users of other instant messaging services such as AOL, MSN or ICQ," the survey says. "This premium Messenger service as described above would be offered along with the current free Messenger features for a small and appropriate fee."

Yahoo declined to comment on the substance of the survey. But the company has used similar questionnaires in the past to gauge users' willingness to pay for content and services in advance of launching them.

In March 2002, for example, Yahoo ran a survey to see whether people would be willing to pay for audio and video titles. That service wound up launching a year later.

In addition to determining whether consumers would be willing to pay for an interoperable Yahoo Instant Messenger, the company would have to negotiate a deal with America Online for the right to access its system.

Microsoft in 1999 touched off a fierce battle with AOL after launching a version of its IM application that let its customers communicate with people using AOL. AOL responded by blocking Microsoft instant messages.

AOL would not say whether it has negotiated any kind of interoperability agreement with Yahoo, but pointed to its recent interoperability deal with Reuters as an example of its willingness to open its system.

"We've created a bridge to let the two protocols talk to each other," an AOL representative said. "We support connecting other IM communities to AIM, provided it can be done in a way that protects our users' privacy, security and network performance."

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