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 internetnews.com.

The two media giants have since retreated from the business IM market and inked a deal 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 Pro, 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 explained.

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 Internetnews.com.

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