ICQ Takes on Friendster

Rhett Pardon
SILICON VALLEY -- Apparently Friendster’s business model has caught on in a big way.

America Online’s ICQ launched a social-networking service Thursday called ICQ Universe, which is expected to create more opportunities, both business and personal, than existing sites.

ICQ (“I Seek You”), the primary instant-messaging system in the adult-entertainment industry, has 175 million registered users and 8 million daily active users, America Online said. Friendster, a one-year fledgling, claims it has more than 5 million users.

ICQ said that its existing users will help the new service become a leader among social networking sites, which consist of personal profiles and lists of friends that people can use to meet one another, post messages, and send email.

In beta testing for three weeks, ICQ Universe users can create profiles of themselves, write testimonials for friends, and view and message members.

ICQ Universe, which is free and available to all ICQ users, said it currently has no plans to charge and will collect revenue from advertising. Users may see charges for premium services across ICQ eventually, the company said.

AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ are interoperable, so ICQ users can also invite AIM users to join. AIM users will also eventually be able to log in with their screen names, ICQ said.

The field of social-networking services has been growing and attracting investors lately, after Friendster attracted nearly $13 million in venture funding last October.

In November, business networking site LinkedIn received venture funding of $4.7 million. And Monday, InterActiveCorp., which owns Match.com and Evite, said it acquired ZeroDegrees, an online business networking company with about 220,000 members.

Meanwhile, Lycos, a unit of Spain’s Terra Networks SA, rebranded itself as a service center for connecting people. Lycos currently doesn’t link people based on who they know as other social-networking sites do, but it may add that feature if a business model can be proved, the company said.