As we mentioned the other day, Google Talk has been unleashed on the world which has largely greeted it with a great big, “So what?” This is understandable as Google’s new baby is much like the search engine itself when you first look at it (read: simple and kind of plain) and some folks who are used to the ridiculous number of extras—from stock tickers to mobile device SMS messaging—thrown at them in other IM clients seem to be having trouble understanding why this should be a big deal.
It’s the simplicity of Google Talk that’ll be its biggest strength I think. Google is the most popular search engine on the planet because when you go there you’re presented with a very clean interface that has one text entry box for you to put your query into. Even if you don’t know a damned thing about how to arrange your query so that the engine will group certain words together it’ll still return some of the most useful links you could hope for 90% of the time, but if you do know how to organize your query then it ends up being that much more powerful. Simple, but amazingly useful without you needing to be a geek. Google Talk is also pretty easy to use. If you already have a Gmail account then once you download and install the 900K GT client all you need to do is login with the same username and password you use for Gmail and you’re up and running. Once in it’ll add in all the folks in your Gmail contacts list to Google Talk if you want it to and make it easy for you to invite them to start using the client. Google has said they intend Google Talk to be a way of tempting folks to use Gmail, which they plan to open up to anyone who wants an account pretty soon. I’d read that anyone could sign up now, but I just checked and there’s still no option to create an account on the login page for Gmail.
Once it’s running it’ll automatically check your Gmail account for new email and pop up notices for you whenever you get one. Beyond that it’s only other two features are Instant Messaging and VoIP calls. The IM is your basic chat interface with no bells or whistles in sight. It doesn’t even convert text smilies into cute graphics like the other clients do. One interesting aspect about it, though, is how it handles multiple messages in a row. Most chat clients prepend the screen name of the person to every message sent so if you sent three messages in a row before the other person responds each message has your screen name on the front of it. Google Talk only appends a screen name when the conversation switches sides so multiple messages from one person ends up looking like a paragraph and I think that’s pretty cool.
The VoIP feature is really nifty. Other IM clients have had voice chat for some time now and the quality is generally OK, but I was surprised at how good the audio in Google Talk was. It was better than phone quality when I tested it out with the help of an SEB regular who didn’t get the chance to hear my voice because I had my mic hooked into the wrong port at the time. Which is just as well, I told him, because I sound like a Redneck Mike Tyson. OK, that’s a lie. I don’t sound anything like Mike Tyson, but I don’t sound as impressive as I should considering how scary everyone thinks I look. Bill used to say I was great to walk through bad neighborhoods with because I look all tough and mean, but if I opened my mouth I’d ruin the effect and we’d get our asses kicked. The VoIP option in Google Talk is obviously dependent on you having a microphone hooked up to your PC, but if you have one then it couldn’t be easier to use. Click the button to start a voice chat and then start talking. A couple of sliders at the top of the window allow you to set volume levels, but otherwise it’s a hands free operation and it doesn’t cost you a dime.
And that’s pretty much all it does at the moment. It does only a couple of things, but it does them very well with a minimum of fuss and that’s going to be very attractive to a lot of folks. Don’t forget that this is just the beginning. Google is reportedly in talks with several other IM providers (AOL and Yahoo) about interoperability with users of their clients as well as VoIP services such as Skype and Gizmo. The VoIP arena is seeing a lot of growth as of late and if Google Talk is able to allow it’s users to contact folks using Skype and Gizmo then that could be a big boost in its favor. See what Michael Robertson, one of the men behind Gizmo and SIPphone, had to say about Google Talk. He seems pretty excited about it.
So, yeah, at the moment it’s your pretty standard IM client that may not seem like much to get excited about, but it holds a lot of promise and it’s very easy to use. For those of you out there who are trying it out and want to add me to your contact list my Gmail address is . I’ve got my mic working so I can even do voice chat now. All I ask is that you remember why the hell you put me on your contact list so you don’t have to ask me to tell you why later. Oh, and if anyone out there still needs a Gmail account give me a shout out as I have 49 invites or so hanging around doing nothing in particular.
Link to Robertson’s article found via Neil’s World.