Q&A: OMG! MSN Messenger 6 Scores Big With IMers

Blake Irving, corporate vice president, MSN Communications and Merchant Platform

REDMOND, Wash., June 17, 2003 — MSN Messenger 6 Preview may be the best-kept secret that millions of people already know about. Announced today, the new version of MSN’s popular instant messaging service has been so anticipated that more than 2 million people downloaded it before it became publicly available.

Even though Microsoft did not plan for it to be distributed, and did not grant anyone permission to do so, dozens of Web sites are already offering Messenger 6 worldwide, with new ones springing up every day. Customers’ curiosity seems to have been piqued by the many new features Messenger 6 offers, such as a new collection of animated emoticons, ability to share live video with friends around the world, and new interactive games consumers can play while IMing.

To find out more about what’s exciting IMers, PressPass talked to Blake Irving , corporate vice president of MSN at Microsoft.

PressPass: What’s behind all the enthusiasm that’s been building around MSN Messenger 6 these past few months?

Irving: It’s truly a customer-driven phenomenon. We’ve seen unprecedented global consumer interest in MSN Messenger 6 because of dramatic innovations that make it one of the most engaging services we’ve ever delivered. The beta version took off like wildfire, primarily because of the wealth of exciting new capabilities we’re offering — from never-seen-before personalization options that let people create their own online identities every day to multi-player online game activities and an integrated webcam that lets friends see each other in real time while IMing. The fact that hundreds of enthusiast sites have popped up, where people are telling their contacts about the various features that MSN Messenger 6 offers, is a testament to the popularity of instant messaging, the popularity of MSN Messenger in particular and the groundswell of interest in the new version.

PressPass: What new features in MSN Messenger 6 do people seem most excited about?

Irving: People want to make IMing a personal experience, and we heavily invested in delivering the most personalized version of an Instant Messaging service available today. We strove to help people create a
“digital self”
through including features that help people discover, design and express their individuality. Features such as cool, customized display pictures — everything from celebrities to locations to sports — let you represent yourself when IMing with other people. Custom backgrounds that you can choose from our large library, or create your own, using a picture or logo, let you customize your messaging window. Over 60 emoticons help you demonstrate your mood or feelings – and we also offer animated emoticons, such as candles flickering on a birthday cake, and make it super easy for people to create their own emoticons. Over 150 fonts and 16 colors of fonts are the icing on the cake. You can become someone new every day – depending on your mood and feelings.

The second area we focused on was helping people share more of themselves with their friends. IMing is all about creating a virtual world — whether it is a playground, mall, or office — we strove to create an online community that people can experience. Interactive features make it incredibly easy to share photos. Dramatic improvements to file sharing let you send movie trailers or pictures with ease. We’ve also integrated multi-player online game activities, like Solitaire Showdown, Bejewelled or Minesweeper Flags. We’ll continue to introduce new services that drive this community and help people share with one another via IM.

Our third goal was coming up with new ways to connect people. Everything from integrated webcam capabilities, that enable you to do video and voice chat directly from MSN Messenger, to integration with mobile devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, and Tablet PCs. Using a Tablet PC, you can send handwritten
notes from the Tablet PC and read it in MSN Messenger 6 on any PC. Top of mind with all connection methods is ensuring that we help protect your privacy and help protect you from spam.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft decide to come out with these particular features?

Irving: Our service is largely based on customer feedback. We spent a lot of time talking to consumers and understanding what features they wanted, and what features could make a better service. And across the board, we found that people are looking for a more personalized experience, they want to use IM for new scenarios, such as sharing photos and playing games together, and they want innovative new ways to connect and communicate. We worked extremely hard to please our current users and interest new users to check out our service. Once they try it, we think they’ll love it.

PressPass: These new features seem fairly sophisticated. Do you think IMers will find them easy to use?

Irving: Absolutely. One of our top priorities is ensuring that MSN Messenger is designed for extreme ease of use, so we’re offering smart new features that anyone can access. The user interface of the service has been totally redesigned to be clean and simple so it will give people easy access to all of these fun features and cool technology.

PressPass: What are you hearing from IMers who are already using this version?

Irving: The feedback we’ve gotten to date has been very, very positive. The viral spread of the beta to 2 million people, without any effort on our part, is testament to the strength of this service. The personalization features are especially popular with IMers. People are really excited about creating their own online identity, and trading custom emoticons, cool display pictures and new backgrounds with their IM buddies. People also are very excited about integrated game and integrated webcam capabilities.

Hundreds of enthusiast sites have already been created by people who love this service. We think more and more MSN Messenger communities will proliferate as more people download the new version and fall in love with the service. Additionally, we are launching a number of regional community sites that people can access worldwide to share their digital expressions with other folks.

PressPass: Why does Microsoft feel that MSN Messenger is an important service to develop and promote?

Irving: For one thing, IM keeps growing and crossing over into new age groups. It’s become a unique and pervasive means of communication that is changing the way people communicate, much as e-mail did. Research indicates that IM has actually grown in popularity 30 percent faster than e-mail did at its inception. Messenger users worldwide already send more than 2.1 billion messages each day. Our MSN Messenger service also continues to rapidly grow in popularity. MSN Messenger is the world’s most popular free IM service today, reaching more than 100 million active users worldwide each month. And, more than 46 million unique users log into MSN Messenger every day.

In addition to solving a strong consumer need, MSN Messenger is an important component of our long-term vision to deliver the best communication services for broadband users. So, along with adding great features such as personalization, we’re developing features that are particularly useful in a broadband scenario, such as the webcam integration and online game activities.

PressPass: What about the business side? Why is Microsoft investing so much in a free service if MSN is focused on becoming profitable?

Irving: By investing in MSN Messenger, we continue to cultivate a group of very excited consumers, and we hope to one day turn that relationship into billable opportunities, such as charging for premium services. A good example is the phenomenal success we’ve seen with the avatar services we launched early this year in Korea. Avatars are small, customizable characters that people can create to develop an online persona while using MSN Messenger. People pay a small fee to personalize them with, say, sunglasses, a boombox, a designer outfit, or hip hairdo. Within a few months of making this service available, more than 1 million avatar transactions occurred within Korea alone. This points to potential revenue opportunities that could broaden in the future. We also see a potential revenue opportunity in the instant game capabilities we’re offering with MSN Messenger. As third-party developers build more games, we could offer an online game subscription for people to use over MSN Messenger. These are just a few examples, but we think we’ve just scratched the surface with what we can do with IM.

Additionally, because IM is such a popular activity, it drives a tremendous amount of network traffic, which helps people learn about other MSN services – such as our recently launched subscription radio service, MSN Radio Plus. Our advertisers also like the increased traffic.

PressPass: How do you think the new version of MSN Messenger compares to other IM services available today?

Irving: MSN Messenger 6 shines in a number of areas, but especially in the personalization features that IMers have told us they want. For example, we have more than twice the number of emoticons in this new version as other IM providers have, not to mention that we’re the only messenger service offering animated emoticons, custom emoticons and customized backgrounds in the chat window. Other capabilities that set our product apart include the audio/videoconferencing features, Tablet PC integration and anti-spam controls, plus MSN Messenger 6 offers more variety in terms of games than you’ll find elsewhere.

PressPass: Long term, how do you see Microsoft improving the IM landscape?

Irving: I see Microsoft continuing to innovate heavily with MSN Messenger and continuing to deliver new usage scenarios as the product keeps growing in popularity. One thing that’s sure to get more interesting over time is the opportunity to create various online communities where people can communicate with one another. We’re looking at one-to-many communication scenarios that will make it very easy for someone to communicate with an entire group of people at the same time, using not only words, but also pictures and other cool scenarios.

PressPass: What sort of interest do you expect to see in MSN Messenger 6?

Irving: Given our current user base of 100 million active unique users, MSN Messenger’s availability in 26 languages, the promotion that we plan to run over the summer, and the strong word of mouth that this service is already generating, all signs are pointing to a tremendously successful service.

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