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Yahoo! Enhances Messaging Service

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (AP) _ Yahoo! Inc. is enhancing its instant-messaging service with a variety of new virtual ``environments'' for online chats, in a bid for more users and advertising revenue.

Beginning Monday, Yahoo is adding themed backgrounds to its messenger service. The real-time chats will appear in new forms such as in frames or thought bubbles in a comic strip, for example.

The backgrounds are meant to make the service more fun to use and more attractive to advertisers because they can include links to pages with products for sale. Yahoo has signed on the Peanuts, Dilbert and Hello Kitty cartoon franchises, plus Nintendo and the rock band Garbage.

The new service satisfies two of Yahoo's aims: to make online advertising more appealing and to move up from its third-place position in number of instant messaging users, behind America Online and Microsoft's MSN.

``It's a new way for users to express emotions and their thoughts,'' said Lisa Pollock, Yahoo's director of messaging products. ``We think this is going to catapult us in usage.''
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