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Seeking Riches in Business IM Niches

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The Silicon Valley veteran who created the iMovie and iPhoto
applications and helped drive Apple’s (Quote, Chart) successful
digital hub strategy wants to prove there’s money to be made in the
business instant messaging (IM) market.

With Five Across, a venture-funded IM start-up, former Apple director
of engineering Glenn Reid is looking for dollars where America Online
(Quote, Chart) and Yahoo (Quote, Chart) failed.

“They (AOL and Yahoo) were never really in the business IM market to
begin with. They are both very consumer-oriented companies, and they have
been successful in the consumer IM market. On the corporate side, they
were reselling third-party products, and that was just not a good fit,”
Reid said in an interview with

The two media giants have since retreated
from the business IM market and inked a
to connect Microsoft’s Live Communications Server 2005 to
their public chat networks.

Flush with a $2 million cash infusion from Granite Ventures and Adobe
Ventures (the VC arm of Adobe Systems), Five Across has shipped Intercomm,
a free lightweight IM application that features tools for text chat,
file-sharing, scheduling of meetings and presence management.

The plan is to lure new users with the free product and hook them
into upgrading to InterComm
, a paid version with advanced tools for chat archiving, multiple
contact lists and phone and e-mail alerts.

For Reid, the attraction to instant messaging was straightforward.

“I get excited about product categories that many people think are
finished,” he said. “Everyone wrote off video editing, but we found
success with
iMovie as a consumer application. In this space, IM is being widely used
in the workplace, but there isn’t much functionality outside of typing
messaged back and forth.

“We saw an opportunity to dramatically improve it, and that’s what
we’re focused on,” Reid added.

In recent years, Reid said IM developers have gone “wide and shallow”
into cell phones and PDAs instead of “digging deeper” with collaborative
features for the business user.

“There is some innovation going on but
it’s still very limited to just text messaging,” Reid said. “Instead
of text chat,
we’re targeting those small work groups with five or six people
collaborating around documents.”

Where rival Groove Networks is pushing its collaboration software to
high-end enterprise IT departments, Reid believes Five Across can find
its niche in the small- to medium-sized (SMB) market.

“We’re throwing IM on top of workplace collaboration. We’re taking
some of the best ideas from
different parts of the market and integrating them all in one place,” he

The InterComm service, for instance, allows users to send a message
to multiple recipients, even if some of the recipients are off-line.
Document sharing is included with features to allow users to maintain
control of changes and revisions in a central server-based repository.

Online calendaring to power meeting schedules is also available, all
built on top of instant messaging, Reid said.

At launch, Five Across hosts the communications for InterComm, a
potential hiccup for users looking to use the product inside the
corporate firewall. But Reid said plans are advancing smoothly for a
service product that can be installed inside the firewall.

Article originally appeared on

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