Microsoft just launched an interesting little drive to spread the word about Windows Live Messenger 8.1. Yes, I’m just as surprised that they didn’t limit the terms to a build and release number, but the good news is that for every time you begin a conversation with the word “i’m”, they’ll chip in “a portion of the program’s advertising revenue” to help causes from the American Red Cross to UNICEF.

Sounds generous, right? Wrong. Not only do you need to check off those two boxes, but you also need to suffix your messenger nickname with one of the nine carefully selected text codes to determine which cause you’d like to contribute to. I’ll bet teenagers in the United Kingdom are just dying to suffix their nicknames with *naf. Add the fact that Microsoft doesn’t really tell you how much they’re willing to chip in, that it’s only available in 33 countries and voila.

In all honesty, it’s quite a bit more likely that Microsoft ran a usability test on the number of people who’d be willing to bend over backwards to contribute this way, and figured, what the heck, let’s go for it! Besides, there’re probably only 500 users who’d follow the instructions either way.

If you’d like to prove them wrong, take out 5 minutes from your schedule, download and install Windows Live Messenger 8.1, suffix your nickname with the text code of your cause and begin every conversation with an “i’m”.

Personally, I’m satisfied with the advertisement-free Windows Messenger 4.3 that shipped with my computer back in 2004, and will more than gladly chip in the extra 2 dollars Microsoft could’ve chipped in to UNICEF on my behalf by the end of the year.

The drive only goes to show that even the best of intentions can be tarnished by poor usability and worse still, a poor understanding of your audience’s capability.