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Odigo smiles on animated instant messages

The IM provider announces a partnership with software developer Tech Image that will let people send animated instant messages through its service.

Odigo is putting a new face on instant messaging.

The IM provider announced a partnership Tuesday with software developer Tech Image that will let people send animated instant messages through its service.

Electronic text has long used character conventions to symbolize emotional shadings--for example, ":)" indicates a smiley face. Several IM services, including Yahoo Messenger and America Online's AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), have gone a step further, incorporating graphical smiley faces with a range of expressions, from happy or sad to angry or snide.

Now Odigo wants to move to the next level with Tech Image's software. Dubbed Feelingz, the software captures and recreates real facial movements for its 3D animated characters, which people can view by downloading Tech Image's free FeelzPlayer.

The announcement comes a week after the Federal Communications Commission approved the historic merger between AOL and Time Warner.

AOL Time Warner's IM rivals, AOL Time 
Warner package including Odigo, had asked the agency to require strict conditions on the deal concerning interoperability between IM services. But the FCC merely included minor restrictions, requiring AOL to open its services only if it launches "advanced, IM-based high-speed services (AIHS) applications."

AOL Time Warner owns the two largest IM services, AIM and ICQ. Odigo offers a free application that is capable of working with rival services including Yahoo Messenger and AOL Time Warner's instant messengers.

"Our partnership with Tech Image is another testament to our commitment to provide our users the most robust instant messaging products available," Avner Ronen, Odigo's vice president of strategic development, said in a statement.

Early this month, the company secured $15.4 million in private placement financing led by Lazard Technology Partners. The cash infusion came two months after the company reported signing up some 2 million consumers.