AOL revamps ICQ instant message service

America Online has updated its ICQ instant messaging service, which now boasts the ability for developers to create plug-in...

America Online has updated its ICQ instant messaging service, which now boasts the ability for developers to create plug-in applications to extend ICQ's functionality.

ICQ 4.0 features a development platform called Xtraz, which has an open application programming interface (API) for the creation, delivery and automatic update of plug-in applications developed in HTML, DHTML (Dynamic HTML) and Macromedia Flash.

Xtraz include several games for both single and multiple users, a greeting-card sender and a feature for uploading photos. Video sessions, more games, maps and personal finance plug-ins are expected later this year.

The Xtraz applications reside on ICQ servers, allowing AOL to deliver and update them automatically without users having to do any downloads. Initially, ICQ will work with partners to create Xtraz plug-in applications, and later on it will let users develop applications and submit them to ICQ, which can make them generally available.

AOL expected the Xtraz platform to attract new users drawn by the new functionality and to increase revenue.

ICQ has eight million active users every day on its network, and it is strongest outside the US, Arad said, adding that 80% of ICQ users are not English speakers. With ICQ 4.0, the idea is to maintain the service's international strength and increase its position in the US.

Since last year, users from ICQ and AOL's sister AIM instant messaging service have been able to exchange messages, which gives ICQ access to the AIM installed base.

ICQ ranks fourth in terms of use behind AOL's AIM, Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Yahoo's Messenger.

Other enhancements in ICQ 4.0 include a revamped user interface, called Super Message, which consolidates operations into a single window, simplifying the user experience; a feature called Follow Me that lets users forward their ICQ messages to a mobile phone; and integration with the ICQ Universe social networking service launched in March.

ICQ 4.0 is available for a free download at in its English-language version. Versions in German, Portuguese, Spanish and traditional and simplified Chinese will follow soon.

Existing features carrying over into ICQ 4.0 include file transfer capabilities and the ability to make internet-based phone calls.

Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service

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