Reuters, the financial data group, has struck an agreement to make its financial instant messaging (IM) service interoperable with free IM services from both AOL and Microsoft.

Clients of Reuters who use its Reuters Messaging IM software will now be able to chat with about 200m users of AOL Instant Messenger (Aim) or Microsoft’s MSN Messenger.

The new features which go some way towards tackling the bugbear of interoperability amongst IM services, as AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo - providers of the three most popular consumer IM networks - have traditionally resisted attempts to make their systems interoperable. This has left IM users unable to communicate with users of other networks.

The features were announced by Tom Glocer, Reuters chief executive, and president of Microsoft’s business division, Jeff Raikes, at Reuters’ London head office. Mr Raikes said the agreement with Reuters was not exclusive but praised Reuters’ “leadership” on the interoperability issue.

Unlike the freely-available consumer IM services, commercial IM services such as Reuters’ provide features that are required for regulatory and commercial reasons, such as archiving conversations.

Mr Glocer said there were 300,000 registered users of Reuters Messaging of which 70,000 were active users. Another 1,000 active users were added every week, he said.

“It’s in keeping with the general Reuters paradigm which is to be open, to be able to integrate,” Mr Glocer said.

AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, is the most popular instant messaging system in the United States, but Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s offerings are more popular in the rest of the world.

However there have been signs of more co-operation as competition amongst IM services has increased, with Google and Skype recently entering the fray. Reuters in September signed an agreement with IBM to interoperate with its corporate Lotus IM system, and in October Microsoft and Yahoo! announced their respective IM networks would become interoperable by mid-2006.

David Gurlé, Reuters’ head of collaboration services, said Reuters was in talks with Yahoo, Google and Skype, and would have agreements in place with them “hopefully in the next few months or a year”.

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