Report: Yahoo, MSN catching up with AOL in instant messaging

A report released today by Media Metrix Inc. indicates Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are stalking America Online Inc. for primacy in the instant messaging market.

However, at least one expert doesn't necessarily agree with the data.

The report says the real-time chat services Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger Service have each accumulated approximately half as many U.S. users as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), whose free service is considered far and away the dominant provider for instant messaging. AOL makes money on AIM through pop-up advertisements. Media Metrix is a subsidiary of Jupiter Media Metrix Co. in New York.

By August, Yahoo Messenger, which launched in June 1999, had grown to 10.6 million users, and MSN Messenger, which launched in July 1999, had accrued 10.3 million users, according to the report. That still leaves the two combined trailing AIM, which, as of August, had 21.5 million users, up from 18.1 million users a year earlier.

"I don't think it's true," said Robert Mahowald, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. Based on his own research into Yahoo and MSN, Mahowald said, he doubted that the two rivals had caught up that closely to AIM.

"I have looked at this from many different angles," Mahowald said. "This sounds like it is just marketing goo that even Yahoo and MSN would dispute."

The report indicates smaller, but similarly proportionate, usage of AIM, MSN and Yahoo instant messaging in the workplace. According to Media Metrix, 4.6 million people use AIM at work, while 1.8 million use Yahoo Messenger and 2.3 million use MSN Messenger.

Microsoft has embedded its instant messaging software into some corporate applications, and some companies, like Novell Inc. in Provo, Utah, have licensed Microsoft's or Yahoo's proprietary instant messaging technology for use under their own brand names. Other corporate messaging products, such as Lotus Development Corp.'s Sametime, uses AIM technology as the basis for their instant messaging component, Mahowald said.

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