Yahoo gets more social with new Messenger 9 beta

The new Yahoo Messenger beta lets users import contacts from other services, notify others of user activities on Yahoo sites, and play games.

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Stephen Shankland
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Yahoo Messenger 9 offers a more elaborate friend list and can display videos and photos in the chat window.
Yahoo Messenger 9 offers a more elaborate friend list and can display videos and photos in the chat window. Yahoo

You can't take it with you, at least when it comes to your social graph.

But with a new beta version of Yahoo Messenger 9 software (download it for Windows) released Thursday, users have new options for reconstructing networks of friends and contacts they've built elsewhere.

The new beta of Yahoo Messenger 9 can help user invite contacts on AOL, Google's Gmail and Orkut, Microsoft's Hotmail, MySpace, and other online services to connect through the Yahoo service. Version 9 also includes a special group of all people in your Yahoo address book, helping to connect with contacts users may have stored elsewhere within Yahoo itself.

Also tying more deeply into the rest of Yahoo, the new beta can be used to reflect some other activities within the network--for example, when somebody spotlights a Web site of interest using Yahoo Buzz.

"We'll add more types of updates in the future," said product manager Sarah Bacon in a blog posting about the new beta.

Yahoo Messenger 9 is intended for use on Windows XP, in contrast to the more obviously named Yahoo Messenger for Vista (download it for Windows Vista). The final version of the Yahoo Messenger 9 is due in the third quarter, Yahoo said. The Mac equivalent is scheduled to be released by the end of the year.

Also new in the beta is a better interface for setting status messages--even if you're away from your IM software, Yahoo said. And links to games present in Yahoo Messenger 8 has made its way to version 9, so users can play pool, checkers, and others. However, only those with version 8.1 or later can play games with those using the version 9 beta, Yahoo said.

Yahoo Messenger's icon, a frighteningly happy face, reflects the fact that people have a whole section of their brains just for processing facial information. Yahoo is tapping into that visual cortex a little more directly with the new beta, which uses larger emoticons.

For further information, check Yahoo's blog about the new beta or a Messenger 9 beta demo video.