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Yahoo to embed instant messaging in e-mail

Live chat for Yahoo Mail users in a couple months will be as easy as opening an e-mail message, company says. Photo: Live chats in Yahoo Mail

SAN FRANCISCO--Yahoo is planning to embed instant messaging into its Web-based e-mail program within the next few months so that people can have live chats in Yahoo Mail, even if they don't have an instant-messaging application installed, a Yahoo executive announced on Thursday.

Brad Garlinghouse, vice president of communications, communities and front doors at Yahoo, gave a technology preview at the Web 2.0 Summit here of a new feature planned for Yahoo Mail that seamlessly integrates instant messaging.

Embedded instant messages

Garlinghouse said the reasoning behind melding instant messaging and email is to improve the overall "user experience," something which can be lacking in many so-called Web 2.0 services.

"I would argue that many Web 2.0 applications are already dead," he said. "Web 2.0 as an application is leaving tremendous value on the table for consumers and for us as businesses."

With the new feature, users will be able to see if their contacts are logged on to Yahoo Mail and easily chat with them. They will also be able to see the online status of contacts who have Yahoo Instant Messenger, chatting with them as well. Eventually, they will be able to chat with Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger users too. Yahoo and Microsoft made their instant-messaging applications interoperable in July.

The auto-complete function in Yahoo Mail will indicate if a contact is online, and starting a chat will be as simple as clicking once, Yahoo said. Users will also be able to easily send a copy of chat sessions to people in an e-mail and to copy e-mails into chat windows.

The embedded instant-messaging feature will be rolled out to Yahoo Mail users in the next couple of months, Garlinghouse said. Yahoo Mail already indicates to users when their Yahoo Messenger contacts are online and allows them to launch a dialog instantly, but users need to have the IM client installed.

Google added chat to Gmail earlier this year, but the experience is not as integrated as the new Yahoo Mail functionality appears to be. (You can find additional commentary on the Yahoo technology on CNET's new Webware blog.)

Neither AOL nor Microsoft has integrated chat into their e-mail programs, though Hotmail indicates when contacts who use the MSN Messenger client are online. Meanwhile, all the major instant-messaging applications are including e-mail integration.

Garlinghouse said that Web 2.0 applications should be designed for end users who aren't necessarily technically savvy.

Right now, he said, Web 2.0 applications are limited to "Silicon Valley influencers."

"The Web 2.0 experience is how to make things social, a people-centric experience," he said. "Technical specifications have never been less important to the success of a product."

CNET's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.