Instant Messaging Service Launches Real-Time Social Network, which you probably know as the multi-platform free instant messaging product for the web and mobile devices is launching its own real-time social network today. For now, the network is only accessible online, but the company says it will soon integrate the new features into its mobile app lineup, which currently includes apps for the iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry and Nokia devices.

The goal of the network is to connect users to new people from around the world, and to those who are looking to chat. These interactions are facilitated by the “Meet New People” feature which offers an online directory and search function. The public directory is searchable by location, interests or school and users can post Twitter-like public messages called “Broadcasts” which are meant to spark discussions. When you see someone’s discussion (which, also like Twitter, can contain links), you can join in the conversation in real-time.

Upon first sign-up, imo walks you through the process of creating a public profile, which includes a username, location, profile pic and set of interests. You can also link your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, if you choose.

Once signed in, you’re able to search the directory and “meet new people” using links at the top of the page, locate your own friends from Gmail and Yahoo Mail, or invite friends from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

You can use the new social network without having to associate your IM accounts with with your account – all you need is one imo account. However, you can add your IM accounts from the “settings” option at the top-right and  continue to use as a web instant messenger alongside the new network, if you choose.

While exited from beta a year ago, the new network has been in beta for just a few weeks with a few thousands testers. In order to gain access to the beta, you’ll need an invite from a current user.

TechCrunch has 500 invites to dole out – just click here.

Instant messaging is one of those technologies that has been around for what feels like forever, but whose importance has somewhat decreased in the era of social networking. You no longer have to reach out directly to friends via IM, given that there’s Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Skype, SMS, MMS, mobile apps for group texting, or Gmail with built-in chat, just to name a few alternatives. So it’s interesting to watch this IM leader move into the newly-hot “socialize around your interests” space, which is the backbone of dozens of other startups today from the brainy Q&A’s on Quora to the fluffier Formspring, not to mention handfuls of social/local/mobile apps hoping to capitalize on the same trend.

But has a fair shot at being one of the companies that successfully makes the transition, if it’s able to move its current user base from simple, multi-service IM to a wider, public network. The company says it had over 2 million accounts accessing on a 30 day basis across its platforms, which would be certainly be good base for the network’s launch. The key, of course, will be the mobile app integration – which hopefully will feel a bit more elegant than the cluttered web interface for the newly launched network.

Those integrations will launch “soon” so we’ll hold our final opinion until they do. After all, mobile is what really matters today, in terms of growth, for any social service. The web-based network is merely an early, first glance into’s future potential.