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Lavalife flows into AOL's IM community

Online personals site Lavalife says it has set a date to provide content and advertising for America Online's ICQ instant-messaging service.

Online personals site Lavalife said Wednesday that it signed a deal to provide content and advertising for America Online's ICQ instant-messaging service.

Under the partnership, Lavalife becomes the exclusive source of personals and advertising to AOL's ICQ (pronounced "I seek you") instant messaging (IM) community, which claims some 160 million registered members. Based on the terms of the deal, the two companies will share revenue generated via the service.

The agreement marks the second personals-related announcement from AOL in the last week, as the giant Internet service provider also launched a preview of its Love.com Web site, which aims to combine online dating content with the company's AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) software.

In addition, the companies reported that Lavalife will design and maintain regional personals sites for ICQ users, to be introduced in January, that retain the look and feel of the dating content provider's own pages. Lavalife was one of the first Web personals sites to allow its users to communicate via IM.

"For us this is a major new on-ramp for customers and a way to drive consumption of our (paid) services," said Lavalife chief executive Bruce Croxon. "Our strategy is to keep laying on products to keep people connected to the site, and we've been using IM in that matter almost since we first started."

Croxon said that Lavalife is developing technology that will allow the site's users, who pay for credits that allow them to access specific services and features, to connect via mobile devices. He cited the ICQ deal as an important step for the company into external IM systems.

AOL is looking to Web personals as one of its numerous plans to help slow its rate of subscriber losses, in addition to broadband ISP service, advanced tools for power users and a discounted Netscape Internet service.

Online dating networks have proven increasingly profitable, as businesses such as InterActiveCorp's Match.com, Yahoo and Friendster have convinced millions of people to look for potential mates online.

AOL currently maintains a partnership with sector leader Match.com to provide personals listings to its members, under a revenue-sharing agreement.

When asked whether he considers AOL a potential competitor in online personals, Lavalife's Croxon said there is plenty of room in the market for multiple vendors with different kinds of services.

"The good news for everyone is that penetration into this market remains low and continues to grow," he said. "While a site like Match.com will target setting people up with someone to walk down the aisle with, we're creating a more real-time, casual community that keeps people interested in dating connected with tools like IM and mobile technology."