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CMGI's iCast unveils messenger that trades video, music

Online entertainment start-up iCast launches its Web site and an instant messaging service that will allow music and video lovers to immediately contact buddies while a broadcast is in play.

Online entertainment start-up iCast today launched its Web site and an instant messaging service that will allow music and video lovers to immediately contact their buddies while a broadcast is in play.

The iCaster instant messenger, supported by Tribal Voice software, plays video, MP3s, CDs and other audio such as radio broadcasts and allows people to instantly drag and drop music or video into a friend's instant messaging account.

For example, a person could instantly send a Lauren Hill MP3 to a friend while listening to the music, and both parties could engage in an instant written conversation, said Bill Golden, an iCast spokesman.

The product, however, could raise the stakes in a tiff between America Online and Tribal Voice over competing instant messaging products. The iCaster touts compatibility with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) as well as similar services offered by AT&T, Microsoft and AltaVista. But iCast unveiled its products without truly knowing whether AOL will be agreeable.

In December, AOL blocked unauthorized Tribal Voice messaging users from its network, specifically targeting the company's largest clients: AT&T's I M Here and AltaVista's instant messaging service.

For a while, Tribal Voice and AOL engaged in a cat and mouse game; each time Tribal Voice changed its code to gain access to AIM's estimated 45 million members, AOL blocked the service.

The issue has not been resolved since the December quarrel.

"Sure, it's risky and there's a concern," Beth Nagengast, Tribal Voice's instant messaging product manager, said of today's announcement. "But it's working now, and our engineers are committed to keeping it working should AOL want to block us out again."

AOL executives could not immediately be reached for comment.

How the impasse will affect iCast Puppet masters: Who controls the
Netmembers remains to be seen. Still, executives from the Woburn, Mass.-based start-up are optimistic that their service will be a hit.

"It's like a virtual water cooler effect," Golden said. "People who like to talk about music and video will be able to do so in real time."

The iCast Web site features interviews, a variety of music, movie reviews and other stories. iCast Music holds more than 1 million song clips and about 10,000 MP3s, and iCast Radio has 200 broadcast radio stations and about 20 genre-based, Web-only radio stations, the company said.

The movie portion of the site features some 12,000 artists, interviews with filmmakers, and behind-the-scenes footage from film sets and locations.