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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Microsoft invites teen cliques to socialize online

By Helen Jung
Associated Press

SEATTLE — Parents, take note. Microsoft Corp. thinks it just may understand your teenagers.

Microsoft's CJ Saretto, left, and Eugene Mesgar, demonstrate the new threedegrees software, which features instant messaging, group chat rooms, shared music and photos. The target group is teens.

Associated Press

Or at least how they behave online.

The company is betting its new software, called threedegrees, will define hipness in greasing teen social connections — and help it capture a budding generation from competitors led by America Online.

Aimed at the 13-24 age group, the software, now in beta-testing, is like high-octane instant-messaging.

People can create groups of up to 10 people, trade messages, listen to music from each other's collections and share photos. Each group has its own icon and allows users to create new groups that add — or drop — others at will.

Forget high-school hallways: The clique has moved online.

It's the first product out of Microsoft's new "NetGen" team, which focuses on the "first generation to grow up with the Internet," Will Poole, a Microsoft's senior vice president, said in an e-mail. "They are early adopters, and the fabric of the Internet is woven into their everyday lives — they explore, they try new things, and they influence the broad consumer market."

Microsoft isn't the only company looking to curry favor with the consumer of the future. AOL, whose instant-messaging service is highly popular among teens as well as the overall population, is working on new software to retain its younger base, reportedly by incorporating aspects of e-mail software. AOL would not discuss its efforts when contacted by The Associated Press.

The seeds for threedegrees came from a Not-Net-Gen'er, Tammy Savage, now 33.

"Having fun with friends is their No. 1 priority," Savage said of young people. A 10-year Microsoft employee who started in business development, Savage grew threedegrees out of a reality TV-like experiment with college students.

For now, a user can invite up to nine others to a group for chatting, and instantly send photos to the whole group with a single computer mouse motion. A user can also send the group "winks" — audiovisual files such as Bill Gates accompanied by a voice saying "Back to Work" or a robot who crashes through the screen.

Microsoft would not disclose how many people are participating in the beta, expected to wrap up this summer. Spokeswoman Erin Cullen said the company has not yet decided whether to charge for the service.