hi5 Adds Chat, With A Social Twist

Social network hi5 is launching an instant messaging service, hi5 IM, adding real-time interaction for users. hi5 IM, which is similar to Facebook Chat, Facebook’s instant messaging feature, shows users which friends within their network are online and runs directly in any hi5 user’s browser. In addition to one-on-one chat, users can change their status, write updates, post profile comments, and share photos through hi5 IM.

It appears that the social network is looking to amp its “entertainment features” to gain more users and is also focusing on engaging users though casual gaming and micro-payments. Hi5 also recently partnered with Paymo to power mobile payments for virtual goods. The social network is hoping that real-time chat will compliment casual games, and interaction with other content on the social network.

hi5 IM also enables users to share and express their emotions through animated hi5 “star” emoticons. The star, derived from the hi5 logo, represents a variety of virtual gestures and emotions, such as sad, happy, laughing, crying, playing dead, angry and shy. Last month, the self-described “world’s leading social entertainment web site,” got a new CEO, Bill Gossman, formerly the CEO of the online advertising service Audience Science. And at the end of March, the social network hi5 cut a large percentage of its staff following the failure of a new round of funding to materialize.

With nearly 60 million active users, hi5 has a good sized audience, but it’s long been far behind the big boys in the social networking space, MySpace and Facebook. Facebook is the most popular social network worldwide with 294.7 million unique visitors, with MySpace coming in second with 125.7 million unique visitors. hi5 gets about 63 million monthly unique visits worldwide but only 3.7 million of those are from the U.S., according to ComScore’s March stats. And a good chunk of ts audience is in countries where it is hard to attract advertisers,