SAN JOSE, California (AP) _ Yahoo! Inc. is adding video capabilities to its instant messaging service as it tries to avoid being left in the dust by America Online and Microsoft.
Instant messaging is one of the Internet's most popular activities because it lets users chat in real time. Some services enable voice transmissions with the messages, but Yahoo is the first to add a video feature for people with Web cameras.
The images will come through at one frame per second _ far from the quality of live streaming video, but enough to let users express more emotion in their messages, said Lisa Pollock, Yahoo's director of messaging products.
``This is a really important initiative for us,'' she said. ``We're really excited about it.''
Text and audio aspects of the messages will work the same as before, whether the free video function is used. Pollock said the video should work even on relatively slow dial-up connections.
Sunnyvale-based Yahoo counts 192 million registered users, more than any Internet site in the world. But its instant-messaging application has slipped to third, with 11.8 million users in May, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. AOL's downloadable instant-messaging application had 25.5 million and Microsoft's service on the MSN network had 18.4 million.
Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Nicole Lewis said the video capability is unlikely to win over significant numbers of people, since only 14 percent of Internet users have Webcams.
``Yahoo's getting a little panicky, because they've quickly become the third-place player in a what was a three-way battle but is becoming a two-way battle,'' she said.
MSN hasn't disclosed plans for video functions on its messaging service. However, Microsoft said this month that Windows XP, the upgraded operating system coming out in October, will come with a new instant messaging program that will support video feeds.
An AOL spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.
As part of the initiative, Yahoo is working with Logitech Inc., which sold 4 million Webcams last year. Beginning next month, new Logitech cameras will include Yahoo's messaging software.