Bonfire.im brings IM-style chat to Twitter, know when your friends are online

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So far Twitter users have gotten by with Direct Messaging when they want to be more intimate with their friends. But what if they could do Facebook-chat style instant messaging? That’s the offering today from Bonfire.im, a brand new disruptive startup which promises to change the Twitter experience in quite a fundamental way, by adding IM-syle Presence. Suddenly you could now know if your friends were online or ont. However, they hope Twitter will like this new plugin since it keeps users stuck to the web site. That means ad dollars for Twitter.

Launching today, Bonfire.im is part of a trend away from centralised IM services. As we know, there is no incentive to innovate on the part of MSN Messenger or AOL Messenger. It’s all about user lock-in. Facebook IM by contrast has show that people want to IM “in context” with their social graph, and now Bonfire.im hopes to prove the same for Twitter.

They are also hoping their plug-in for Chrome and Safari will be interesting enough for Twitter not to shut down their service at first site, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.

Bonfire.im works by detecting your browser then letting you install the appropriate plugin. Once you have it running you can invite friends very easily, but a Twitter user has to follow and be followed by the same person in order to IM them over Bonfire. Now, it sounds technically replicable in plug-in terms and it probably is, but I’m told but it’s “not trivial”. Direct Messaging remains unaffected.

Uses? Well, that’s to be decided, but of course this could be great for brands which want to do live customer service, for instance

Would Twitter do this IM service? Probably not right now, as it’s a distraction and doesn’t monetize content. They might do it, but it would have to be a separate team, like the Search team. The Bonfire team – coming out of Brighton in the UK – are hoping they won’t. Not yet.

The co-founding team consist of Josh Russell and Jay Gooby. They have taken a small Angel round, undisclosed.