Yahoo Messenger Finds Its VoiceIM app will allow users to make PC-to-PC voice calls.
Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service
Yahoo plans to improve the PC-to-PC voice communications feature of its Yahoo Messenger instant messaging service, replacing the current walkie-talkie technology with a persistent connection.
Instead of having to take turns speaking, users will have a constant connection with good voice quality even if they're hooked up to the Internet at dial-up speeds.
As with the existing voice feature, both users need PCs equipped with a microphone and speakers, since the voice "calls" are made from within the Yahoo Messenger interface and there are no phone numbers to dial. For a fee, users can dial out to a phone number from within Yahoo Messenger using the third-party Net2Phone service, an existing option.
Also new with the free voice communication service are a call history log and the ability to leave voicemail messages. "We have had PC-to-PC voice connections via Yahoo Messenger since 1999, and this is chapter two," says Frazier Miller, director of product management at Yahoo's instant messaging group.
Yahoo, in Sunnyvale, California, plans to unveil the enhanced voice communication feature in a test upgrade of Yahoo Messenger scheduled for availability at some point Wednesday as a free download.
More Than Text Messages
Improving the voice communication capability of Yahoo Messenger is a good move, considering that VoIP is catching on thanks to improved service quality, widespread broadband adoption and the prevalence of PCs that come equipped with microphones and speakers, says Marcel Nienhuis, an analyst at Radicati Group.
Fine-tuning the product's voice feature also ties into the industry trend of extending IM communication's options beyond simple text messaging, Nienhuis says. "The nice thing about IM is that you have presence," he says, referring to IM services' ability to inform about people's availability status. "That's the heart of it, so it makes for a great platform to build other applications around it."
The new Yahoo Messenger beta also has improved photo sharing, including better image quality, a new interface onto which photos can be dragged and dropped, and the ability to grab photos from anywhere on the hard drive, whereas the existing version only allows the sharing of photos from a Yahoo album, Miller says.
Other types of files, such as Microsoft Word documents, can also be dragged and dropped into a Yahoo Messenger IM window to be transferred to another user.
Blogs Get a Boost
Also new is integration with the company's new blogging/social networking service Yahoo 360. An icon indicates if someone in the contact list has updated a blog, and users will be able to publish blogs to their Yahoo 360 account from the Yahoo Messenger interface.
A new contact card has been designed to make it easier for users to exchange contact details, such as e-mail address, postal address, phone numbers, and birthdates. Another new feature is the ability for users to share their Yahoo Messenger contact lists with others.
In the security realm, the product adds the ability to report unsolicited messages, or "spim," to Yahoo, which will log the sender into its spim database and decide on actions to take based on usage patterns. Reporting a sender as spim also automatically blocks him from sending messages to the user in the future.
This new Yahoo Messenger version is also more tightly integrated with the company's Web search engine by featuring a search query box in message screens, whereas the current version only shows a search query box in the main interface, Miller says.