Meebo launches Meebo Rooms, to stay ahead

Earlier today, we wrote about the IM players, and noted that start-ups such as Meebo and eBuddy will have to work hard to to keep from getting swallowed by the big guys.

Coincidentally, Meebo had been working quietly on a project that launches tomorrow: Meebo Rooms. They are web-based IM chat rooms where people can gather and discuss a video or other media file that plays from a central media player. The company showed us the feature earlier today.

It’s significant because it keeps its features its IM offering one step ahead of the Google/Microsoft/Yahoo crowd, and directly answers the product soon to be offered by Orgoo, also mentioned today.

Here’s how it works: You create a room by clicking at the bottom of your profile (see red arrow on right in image below). Then you post a media file like you’d post a normal IM message: You paste in the link, hit return. Meebo recognizes the media file, and automatically queues it to play in the room’s media player. The player can play audio or music files too. Each room has it’s own URL, so you can invite people to join in by sending them a link. See below for example of a room with NBC Late Night clip.

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The feature is useful because users can chat with others with similar interests. For example, there are featured rooms, such as the Flixter room (see left arrow above). If successful, this will move the company beyond its original role as “instant messaging aggregator” and into a new role as instant media aggregator.

As with Meebo Me, the company’s embeddable widget that allows people to chat within blogs and other public sites, Meebo Rooms can be embedded into sites across the internet.

Meebo Rooms taps into the people’s interest in compelling content and their desire to instantly talk about it with like-minded individuals. In fact, a single room, say, about “politics” can both be embedded in multiple sites across the web and displayed within a Meebo user’s homepage: one conversation, occurring synchronously across the web.

Meebo is well-positioned to promote the service. The company has been growing quickly, with 6.5 million screennames this month as opposed to 5.5 million in March — which means around five million humans are on the site a month (factoring out the people with multiple screen names), according to chief executive Seth Sternberg.

Moreover, Meebo has cut deals with major content sites such as Sony, NBC, Vibe and Pop Sugar. These sites will feature Meebo Rooms on their sites, thereby driving Meebo users to them and their users to Meebo.

Perhaps even more significantly, Rooms marks the first time the company is actively trying to make money — through video ads displayed in Rooms during lulls in the Room’s media player.

Sternberg claims Rooms, with its media files, is around four times harder to handle than the base Meebo IM service — it takes significant scaling technology.

It’s one way Meebo differentiates itself: The vision is to build interesting applications on the IM base, and Rooms is the company’s first big test of the vision.