Google ( GOOG) jumped into the instant messaging and voice chat markets Wednesday with its Google Talk product, a widely anticipated release that takes the company one step closer to becoming an all-in-one means of collecting and sharing information. The new product, still in beta, offers a retort to those who argued that Google wasn't creating many new products beyond search, although it's not clear yet how the company plans to monetize Google Talk. Details of the new product were posted on talk.google.com, which explained that Google Talk was "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." With Google Talk, it's hard to tell who will face the brunt of the new competition -- whether it's Yahoo ( YHOO), which introduced voice capability into its most recent version of Yahoo Instant Messenger; Time Warner's ( TWX) AOL, which is revamping its IM product that has long been the most popular; or, ultimately, phone carriers like Verizon ( VZ), which may find people canceling land lines if Google, which has a real flair for popularizing new technologies, is on to something big here. Google Talk won't display ads, pop-up or otherwise -- a decision that will surely please users more than it will investors who have yet to be satisfied with the company's already burgeoning revenue growth. Those using Google Talk will need a Gmail account, where text ads are displayed, so it's possible the instant messaging technology could spur deeper usage of Google's email programs. On its site, Google made assurances that it will protect privacy of users. "Google does not collect the content of instant message chats or voice conversations," the site said, "And we plan to fully support encryption of chats and calls before our official release."
In fleshing out Google Talk, the company plans to rely on the help of the army of open-source developers who would probably jump at the chance to tinker with the new program. In addition to making the IM client compatible with existing open-source programs such as Trillian, Gaim and Apple's ( AAPL) iChat, Google is actively inviting developers to incorporate Google Talk's technology into their own projects. The buzz surrounding Google Talk before its unveiling Wednesday morning speculated that it was a piece in the company's master plan to present a free, wireless Internet platform independent of Microsoft's ( MSFT) software and possibly Internet service providers. The company's own description of Google Talk -- "think of it as Google's approach to communications" -- did little to dispel that notion. In commenting on what new features the company might bring to build out Google Talk, the site gave a vague but enticing hint: "We believe strongly in user choice and open standards, and we are committed to letting users access Google Talk using the client and platform of their choice, as well as to enabling our users to talk with users from other service providers."