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Meebo offers Web-based unified IM

I use four instant-messaging programs, and in addition to getting tired of signing into each of them, I often need to send IMs from computers where my IM software--or some IM-unifying program like Trillian--isn't downloaded. Well, a start-up called Meebo has solved my problems.

Meebo is offering an alpha (early test) Web-based service that lets people use multiple IM programs and accounts in one unified location using a Web browser on any computer. It uses the AJAX programming technique and so it requires no downloads or plug-ins, like other IM unifying programs.

So far, I'm not the only one who finds this useful; Meebo has about 560,000 log-ins a day, not counting people who have multiple IM accounts, Seth Sternberg, founder and chief executive, said on Tuesday. Users are active in asking for new features, reporting bugs and offering support to each other in the site's forums.

For instance, Meebo is available in 46 languages, including Esperanto and Bork!, the pretend language the Swedish chef from the Muppets show speaks, and users were responsible for doing most of the localization. They post translations of English terms used on the site to a user-created Wiki. A script then automatically posts the translations to Meebo.

"We have Klingon too, but we didn't ship that because not enough phrases got translated," Sternberg said.

The service offers some of the features AIM, Yahoo Instant Messenger, Google Talk and MSN Messenger offer, including a chat history storage option and the ability to show different online status for individual accounts. It also offers single sign-on and a unique pirate emoticon. It is noticeably missing an alert mechanism to let you know when you are being messaged while working in another window. Next up are buddy icons, group chat and more personalization options, said Sternberg.

Longer term Meebo, which is not making a profit yet, is considering doing distribution deals with companies that offer search, SMS, music downloads and other services to generate revenue, he said. "We don't want to throw up a banner ad. The requirement is it has to add value to the user."

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has raised about $3.5 million from Sequoia and angel investors, including Netscape founder Marc Andreessen.