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Microsoft officially has launched MSN Spaces, its free Web logging service.

The company said that since it was introduced in test form on Dec. 1, 4.5 million blogs have been set up. However, fewer than 4 percent (about 170,000) are updated daily, according to the Seattle Times.

New to the official release of MSN Spaces is advertising, with Volvo as the first customer -- putting its banner ads on Spaces and also sponsoring a "best of" page, inviting people to write about experiences with their automobiles. MSN Spaces staff will scour other blogs for compatible posts and put them on the Volvo site, according to Microsoft.

The company also released a new version of its MSN Messenger software for instant, voice and video messaging. It too will have advertising, starting with Coca Cola Co.'s Sprite offering downloads of "theme packs," which include animations and backgrounds and audio clips. American Greetings Corp. also plans to sell icons for personalizing messages.

"It's just a way for people to express themselves," MSN corporate vice president Blake Irving told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "It's advertising but it doesn't feel that way."

MSN has also added a search button to the Messenger window to boost use of MSN Search.

Microsoft said it has reworked the Messenger service to add support for free PC-to-PC full-screen video conversations, using technology from Logitech International. The new version also includes higher-quality audio functionality so users can make computer-to-computer telephone calls.

Keyword costs rise

Businesses prospecting for mortgage or refinancing customers paid an average of $5.39 each time a prospect clicked on their search engine ads in March, according to the latest Fathom Online Keyword Price Index.

The search-engine marketing firm based in San Francisco said the average cost of the most popular keywords rose to $1.75 a click in March, a gain of 9 percent from February. Fathom analyzes prices paid for the 500 most popular generic keywords on major search engines.

The second most expensive category was finance/investing with an average keyword click cost of $1.86, followed by telecommunications/broadband at $1.85 and automotive at $1.42.

Priceline redesign, the Internet travel company that soared with its "Name Your Own Price" format, is preparing to do business in a more traditional fashion.

A site redesign is in the works for next week, and visitors will be encouraged to contribute reviews of airlines and hotels, similar to other Web travel sites.

While the original blind-bid model will still be offered, Priceline will give customers information about airline flight schedules, but not the name of the airline, according to the Wall Street Journal. The moves represent the twilight of an era and are an admission that the number of people who are willing to bid without knowing the details has dwindled, the Journal said.

A revival in the travel business also has reduced the availability of deeply discounted airplane tickets and hotel rooms, so Priceline has had less to offer its customers. The company said only 20 percent of its bidders "won" tickets on the site last year.

Help with column

A media industry analyst is asking Web log readers for some help with a column he is preparing for "What are the key ideas/themes I should touch on?" inquired Sam Whitmore of His query was posted at

Respondents included one person pointing out that Podcasts, or audio programs delivered through the Internet for playback on portable devices, of weekly sales meetings are one application. "The ROI is clear -- you free up one hour of every sales rep's calendar each week and let them listen to the call at their convenience."

Another responder said, "It would be really great if you spared everyone the extremely 'tired' history of Podcasting."

Blogs for baseball reports the Chicago Cubs have more coverage than any other team. "All Baseball, All Blogs, All the Time," is the site's mission. It lists, and links to, 87 Cubs Web logs.

Second most popular are the Boston Red Sox with 76, and the New York Mets are third with 54. The least blog-covered team is the Florida Marlins with five.