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ICQ update offers portal features

The new version of the Web-based instant messaging client, set to launch next week, combines chat with the search and content features of typical portals.

In an attempt to convert community into dollars, a new version of Web-based instant messaging client ICQ, set to launch next week, will include portal-like features, executives said today.

The new version, called ICQ99a, is what ICQ chief operating officer Frederick Singer calls a "desktop communication portal"--a client that combines the chat qualities of the original ICQ with search and content features of typical portals.

In just over two years, more than 28 million people have registered for ICQ. Until the acquisition of ICQ creator Mirabilis by America Online in June, ICQ focused on growing its subscriber base, not on generating revenue directly. Since the acquisition, AOL has said it intends to transform the client into a Web portal that resides on a user's desktop.

In addition to its instant messaging and chat features, the new ICQ client also will feature tools that allow IP telephony and voice messaging, executives from the AOL subsidiary said, adding that eventually the service could include a wireless offering.

Part of the push behind the launch is the revenue it has the potential to provide via advertising and e-commerce. For example, advertisements will appear on a number of its content pages, such as its "ICQ It" search results or its "ICQ Now" member interest pages.

Eventually, users will be able to purchase goods from partners or conduct their own transactions among themselves through auctions, for example. In addition, ICQ will begin looking into more ways to generate revenue through one-to-one marketing between its vendor partners and its members, though nothing specifically has been announced yet, executives said.

With the beefed-up version of ICQ, AOL takes another step into its portal strategy, which up until now has been limited to its Web site. While AOL still considers its subscription-based online service its primary product, the company is still hoping to attract as many eyeballs as it can in the free Web space, pitting itself against other portals such as Yahoo, Excite, MSN, and Lycos, among others.

The launch, expected Tuesday, comes two months after the new ICQ client's alpha release, and will give the public its first peek at the client with its added portal features. The software will be available for download on the ICQ Web site.