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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Meebo: A New IM Service in the Right Place at the Right Time

Meebo.com, a new web-based Instant Messaging service, seems to have sprung up in the right place at the right time. Only four weeks old, it has caught the attention of such heavy hitters as the Web 2.0 Conference, CNet, Om Malik’s Broadband Blog, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, and Mark Jen’s Plaxoed blog.

My first use of the service, still considered an Alpha (early test phase) release by the founders, was good. I could see all my MSN “buddies” just as if I had logged into MSN’s client software, and had a good conversation with an associate.

Because Meebo.com is a web-based instant messaging solution, it allows the user to log into to all the major IM services from a browser instead of having client software loaded on the user’s computer. This is a real boon to travelers, those forbidden to install an IM client on a work computer, or those who must share a computer (think Internet café or college computer lab).

Meebo.com is in the right place at the right time because of the recent announcement by MSN and Yahoo that they would be integrating their IM networks. Today the rumor mill is buzzing that Google and Comcast may jointly try to acquire America Online, another major IM player. Each of the major IM players operate closed networks. You can’t be signed into Microsoft’s MSN IM and chat with someone on ICQ, for example. Google Talk, based on open source technology, is an exception, but its ability to communicate with other IM networks is limited. So, in an emerging technology space in which closed networks are trying to fill the open space between each other, along comes an upstart with a solution. Either the three people behind Meebo.com will take venture capital very soon, or they will be purchased by one of the major players.

Users log on to their favorite IM services at http://www.meebo.com; screen names from all IM services that users have accounts with are retrieved and displayed in one organized window within a single browser page. Current IM services (including AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk/Jabber, MSN Messenger, and ICQ) have more than 500 million users worldwide. Meebo allows the user to sign in to use any of these services without downloading software to install on the local computer.

The service was written using Ajax technology, the Web-based software development philosophy that is driving many new applications and services. Ajax makes it easier for developers to offer highly interactive, dynamic services within a Web browser page.

Based in Palo Alto, CA, Meebo was founded by female engineering duo Elaine Wherry and Sandy Jen, two Stanford University-trained engineers with degrees in symbolic systems and computer science respectively. A third co-founder, Seth Sternberg, a former IBM mergers-and-acquisitions lead and Yale graduate, is currently a student at Stanford Graduate School of Business.


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