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Disney to offer instant messaging

Walt Disney plans to begin offering instant messaging--dubbed BlastPal--as part of its subscription-based online children's service.

Walt Disney plans to begin offering instant messaging--dubbed BlastPal--as part of its subscription-based online children's service, according to an email sent to users.

The instant messaging client is "coming soon," Disney said in the email.

In addition, Disney's Blast Online will be renamed Disney's Club Blast "in the coming week." Users will have access to exclusive material, receive a 10 percent discount at the Disney Store, and get to participate in sweepstakes and contests, according to an email from Margaret Davis, in member services.

"We have many more surprises planned," Davis wrote.

As reported, Disney will relaunch its Web site next Monday, apparently with more free interactive and communications features. Some of these features previously were offered in the Blast for free.

When the Blast was launched in 1997, Disney had hoped its subscription-based service would give such rivals as MSN and America Online a run for their money. But the Internet market has veered away from simple online services--with the exception to AOL--in favor of free Web-based sites that are bolstered by advertising and e-commerce revenues, such as Yahoo and Amazon.

Disney, in turn, shifted with the tide by acquiring Starwave and taking a stake in Infoseek. These moves resulted in the Go Network, which combines Disney-owned media properties with Infoseek search and content under one brand.

Meanwhile, instant messaging has become phenomenally popular. ICQ has registered 28 million users, and has become one of the most popular software downloads on the Web.

A Disney spokeswoman confirmed the authenticity of the email.