After an almost unprecendented frenzy of speculation Google Talk is live. What is it?
- It's an IM client that has VoIP (good transmission quality).
- You have to have a gmail account to participate. (This may help drive gmail adoption.)
- It's simple and easy to use (add contacts, invite and initiate calls).
- The VoIP is not Vonage (only PC to PC right now), but maybe one day — voicemail is likely coming.
- It's part of an open-standards push, but not interoperable with AOL, Yahoo! and MSN's IM clients.
- There's no SMS functionality, but perhaps in the future.
What's interesting about it? Lots. Here are a few things:
- There's no monetization (although a Bloomberg reporter provocatively asked me whether this might sit on third-party sites and ultimately become an ad vehicle — think Google Maps).
- It integrates with gmail (and is a GD2/Sidebar plug-in), but doesn't integrate with search and won't do anything directly to maintain or grow Google's search market share or revenues.
- Some have argued this is part of Google's attempt to "own the desktop," but it could equally be seen as playing catch-up — IM (and arguably VoIP) was a missing piece in its product suite now that Google is a media company/portal.
- Google, the market leader in search, is the big underdog in IM. (It goes AIM, Yahoo! and MSN in order of traffic/usage.)
What about video? Uncertain at this time (no statements were made to me indicating that video would be coming, but it might eventually make sense). An enterprise edition? It's almost a no brainer.
The big X variable, of course, is how many people will download this. It's clean and simple and some people may really take to it. Those people, because of the nature of IM (you have to be a part of the system to use it), will evangelize the product to their friends/colleagues. But there's also an uphill climb; how many IM clients are people going to use? If I'm already invested in AIM and Yahoo! I'm not likely to start using a third or a fourth IM client. We'll see whether this gets consumer traction.
The most interesting piece in retrospect may turn out to be the VoIP component.
VoIP is still mysterious to most of the consumer public. The VoIP on Google Talk is very simple to use and it may — to the extent people take to this — help demystify VoIP and drive adoption.
I've been waiting to start using it to see how the system works and compares in actual practice. Let the games begin.
Generally related: Gary Rivlin piece for the NYTimes about perceptions of Google now that it's the big dog.
Skype responds to Google Talk