Meebo Just May Be This Year's Twitter

Is Meebo this year's Twitter?

For awhile there, it seemed the chat room had died with AOL’s Internet access software. But, Meebo is bringing it back full force here in Austin. The Web-based instant messaging service is powering live discussion boards for every panel on the SxSW Interactive schedule.

Just as Twitter served as last year’s solution to keeping conference attendees in the loop, Meebo’s chat rooms are where this year’s visitors are turning to take the pulse of SxSw. “This is really good,” wrote dango3kyoudai about PostSecret founder Frank Warren’s March 10 keynote. “He has so much empathy.”

This morning, I caught up with one of the company’s three founders, Sandy Jen, and Daniel Bernstein, Meebo’s director of business development. It’s their first SxSw and they’re hoping the conference will catapult their service into the mainstream just as it did with Twitter last year.

Even before the conference, the nearly three-year-old site generated a ton of buzz. The company’s, funded by Sequoia Capital and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, is seen by roughly 29 million people a month thanks in large part to the branded chat rooms Meebo powers on social networks and on media sites such as “We launched it and it was with no funding and just the three of us,” says Jen. “Then it took off and then investors started to ping us.”

The additional SxSW traffic couldn’t come at a better time. Recently, the company began rolling out various forms of advertising to make money from the site. Among the new ad units: customized, branded backgrounds and buddy icons for the chat rooms. “For every one hundred people three of them click on the ad,” says Bernstein of the early results. That click through rate compares to one in every thousand or more for most sites.

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