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Thu, Aug 25, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Google launches IM and voice service

CHALLENGE Google Talk will take on the three big providers of instant messaging -- AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo -- and move the firm further from its Web search roots


Google, the Internet search innovator, was to make its first direct challenge to the broader communications industry yesterday when it introduced an instant-messaging and voice communication service for personal computers.

The program, Google Talk, will allow its users to exchange text messages and converse through their computers with others at remote locations. Other instant-messaging services offer similar capabilities, but Google said the appeal of its system would come from its voice quality, based on audio technology it has developed.

As with other Google product introductions, the company has not linked the new service with a plan for making money, saying only that it was likely to look for revenue opportunities in the future.

But yesterday's introduction is the clearest evidence yet that Google has vast ambitions to move beyond its Web search roots and create a company spanning the full range of digital information.

"This begs the question of what Google defines themselves as," said Allen Weiner, an Internet analyst at Gartner, a market research firm. "I believe they're now a media company whether or not they want to admit it."

In choosing to compete directly with the three major providers of instant messaging -- AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo -- Google has chosen a standard known as Jabber, which has been embraced by proponents of open-source software.

The three major messaging services are largely islands that do not permit their users to send messages to and from competing services. But there have been reports that the Jabber open-source organization is preparing to connect with AOL, which is the largest provider of messaging with its AOL Instant Messenger system, known as AIM.

More than 80 million Americans used instant-messaging services as of last month, according to comScore Media Metrix. Of those users, 30.9 million used AIM, 23.3 million used MSN Messenger and 23.2 million used Yahoo Insider. Although comScore does not track Jabber users, Peter Saint-Andre, the executive director of the Jabber Software Foundation, cited estimates by Osterman Research, a research and analysis firm specializing in messaging and digital collaboration, that 13.5 million use the Jabber standard.

A Google executive said the company was hoping to use the Jabber standard to connect the messaging industry.

"We are going to start working to federate all the other networks," said the executive, Georges Harik, a product management director who is responsible for Google Talk and several other services.

At the start, Google Talk users will be able to exchange text messages with users of other Jabber-compatible software -- including Apple's iChat service and Earthlink -- but they will be able to converse only with other Google Talk users. (Google intends to make its voice technology operable with other systems at a later stage.)

Google plans to link availability of its instant-messaging service to its e-mail service, Gmail, now in public testing. The Gmail service will be made generally available, and a Gmail address will function as a user's instant-messaging identity as well. Users can sign up for both services at www.google.com/talk; a mobile-phone number must be entered as part of a measure to keep spam operators from stockpiling addresses.

Harik said that Google saw its entry into the communications world in the context of a corporate mission of organizing and making all of the world's information readily accessible.

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