In a move that likely marks the company's first forray into online communication tools, Google launched its new Google Talk tool just after midnight last night. Google Talk launched in beta and comes just days after the company released the latest version of Google Desktop.

There's been no shortage of buzz these past few days about Google's plans to launch a new communications tool today. Speculation range from a simple instant messenger tool to voice over IP (VoIP) to full-on nationwide free WiFi service. But what it all boiled down to was the launch of a somewhat simplistic instant messenger/voice chat program.

While some may speculate that the launch has Google moving away from search, Google likely disagrees. After the launch of Gmail, the Google team pointed out that communication and information retrieval were intrinsically tied together. Chances are high that they see this new tool as an extension of the Gmail, Desktop Search and blog offerings that they already have.

The new release once again pits Google against search competitiors MSN and Yahoo!, both of which already offer popular IM programs. The move also pits Google against the pioneer of instant messenger software, AOL. The odd part is that Google's version of instant messenger doesn't seem to be more (or as?) impressive as what's already out there.

What is Google Talk? The Google site describes it this way:

Google Talk is a downloadable Windows application that enables users to quickly and easily talk or send instant messages to their friends for free. Calls are made through your computer using the latest voice technology; all you need is an Internet connection, a microphone and a speaker.

An obvious issue with Google Talk is that you can't actually chat with anyone until they also download and install the program. They need to have a Google account as well, so it may take awhile for the average user to get enough contacts setup to be able to have a conversation. Then again, this is Google. The mere mention of a new product will likely send search junkies everywhere scrambling for their copy and their first conversation, so it might not be that long before you can chat it up with your Gmail buddies.

On the flip side, Google's penchance for simplicity seems to be shining through. Launching Google Talk led me to a nice, simple interface that features links to my inbox, settings and help, along with a list of my contacts. Unlike when I launch AIM, there were no annoying popups, no news windows or stock tickers to close, no ads shoved into place.

Google Talk doesn't currently work for Mac or Linux users, but Google states that they plan to add compatibility for other operating systems in the future. Google Talk is already compliant with other communications clients though, which means that Trillian, GAIM, iChat, Adium and Psi users can simply add their Google Talk screen name to their accounts. Another plus is the integration into the new Google Desktop Sidebar. When I launched my Sidebar while writing this story, I noticed that the Google Talk interface worked its way in as a new panel.

Search Engine Watch has an excellent round-up of features and a point-by-point comparison of Google Talk with other popular IM services.

Is Google Talk going to revolutionize the way that you do business? I doubt it. Chances are good that until Google introduces some feature upgrades, you may not even find a tempting enough reason to switch from what you are already using. But, for Google junkies, the launch will likely be cause for some celebration.

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August 24, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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