LONDON - Reuters Group PLC and Microsoft Corp. have agreed to connect their instant-messaging services in a deal to be announced Tuesday.
The deal comes three weeks after Reuters reached a similar accord with the top provider of instant-messaging, America Online, dramatically expanding the number of people Reuters instant-messaging users can communicate with.
Reuters' instant-messaging network was the first outside service to be linked to AOL's system. Similarly, this partnership will be the first with Microsoft's MSN Messenger network, said Francis deSouza, chief executive of IMlogic Inc., the U.S. firm that designed the connectivity software.
London-based Reuters claims its instant-messaging program has 50,000 users, all in the financial services industry. AOL's instant-messaging services had 50.4 million users in August, while MSN Messenger had 18.9 million, according to comScore Media Metrix, which tracks Internet usage.
The new Reuters-MSN service is to become available during the first half of next year. In addition to the AOL partnership, Reuters has also linked its instant-messaging accounts with IBM Corp.'s Lotus Sametime messaging program. IMlogic provided the connectivity software for those two linkages as well.
Instant messaging became popular with consumers in the late 1990s and has caught on more recently with brokers, traders and other financial service employees.
Through instant messaging, a computer user can send quick written notes, and even audio and video, to someone else online at the same time. Users keep track of their friends' and colleagues' availability through "buddy lists" that show who's currently online.
Unlike with e-mail, the services generally do not permit contact with users of rival services. So someone using America Online's instant-messaging service couldn't reach someone on MSN without first signing up and getting a separate user name for the MSN service.
Although overall "interoperability" between the services has been a goal for several years, big providers have resisted, citing security and privacy issues. AOL has opened its system to smaller services such as Sametime only by hosting them on AOL's own network.
But now Reuters can boast its service will connect to the top two instant-messaging networks, and it is believed to be in negotiations with No. 3 provider Yahoo! Inc.
IMlogic had to ensure Reuters and Microsoft that its software would guard their networks against the introduction of viruses and other security hazards, deSouza said from his office in the Boston suburb of Waltham.
IMlogic's software enables companies to archive messages electronically as an audit trail and a way to comply with industry regulations, he added. That is particularly relevant for users in the financial service and health care industries.