-hi5 Icon-hi5 has added instant messaging to its large social network, running directly from your browser with no downloads required. The purpose of adding instant messaging? Provide real time chat options for its millions of users, which are on hi5 playing games, connecting with friends and more.

Features included in hi5 chat include the ability to see which friends are online and available to chat, the ability to update your status, write updates, comment on profiles and share photos.

This is the latest in a string of chat initiatives being layered in to major social networking sites. In the past few weeks, myYearbook teamed with Meebo to offer instant messaging options directly from the social network geared towards high schoolers. Facebook also launched its own chat component to the social network several months ago, making it easier to connect with friends inside Facebook while also offering a set of APIs that allow third party chat clients such as Digsby to incorporate Facebook chat so one doesn’t have to be on Facebook’s website in order to chat with Facebook friends.

The remote access for chat is another benefit myYearbook has, having teamed up with Meebo, so hopefully hi5 will have a similar offering for its own chat tool. This would only benefit the larger hi5 chat initiative to a degree. Looking at the features hi5 is offering for its chat service, it’s clear that hi5 is hoping to provide as many interactions for the hi5 social network as possible, directly from the chat tool.

In a similar way, Facebook designed its chat tool to be able to become a secondary channel for disseminating information, such as status updates from friends, and notifications for various applications a user has added to their profile. I imagine that hi5 will be utilizing the new chat client for similar purposes, which could ultimately lead to advertising–it’s already a marketing channel of sorts for applications.

As hi5 has been doing a great deal to build up the value of its marketplace, specifically in the virtual goods areas, the chat client and its intrinsic features could easily be a unifying factor for many of the other features hi5 has been adding to its site for an overall reformatting of hi5 and its direction as a social network.