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Google's New Message Service Includes Voice

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We're going to begin today with news about Google. The search engine company has launched a new instant messaging and voice communications service. Until now, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! have dominated that part of the computer landscape. We'll hear about what Google's move means for the larger world of technology and communications in a few minutes. First, here's NPR's Neda Ulaby.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

If you're one of the 80 million or so Americans who use instant messaging services, you're probably used to electronic pizzicato, punctuating your work or play online.

(Soundbite of instant messaging tones)

ULABY: Today a new tone joined the chorus.

(Soundbite of Google Talk tone)

ULABY: That's the sound of Google Talk. Google has now officially joined the ranks of services that allow people to chat online and speak to each other through their computers with microphones. Analyst Benjamin Schachter says none of this is groundbreaking.

Mr. BENJAMIN SCHACHTER (Analyst): What you see with Google Talk today is essentially a me-too product. But I think, as they've done in the past, they sort of launch these beta versions of me-too products and then continue to innovate on top of those. So I think what you're seeing today is really just the first step in what they hope to be a much more innovative service over time.

ULABY: Schachter works for UBS Investment Research which includes Google as a client. George Harrek(ph) works for Google. He's a director of product management, and he says for now the company is keeping things simple.

Mr. GEORGE HARREK (Director of Product Management, Google): The interface is pretty austere in the typical Google manner, so there's not a lot of clutter on the page. There's just--you see your status. You see your friends. You can click to chat with them, then click a button to call them. There's no ads on the interface, and there's nothing that, you know, flashes or beams or does anything that would get in the way of what you want to do.

ULABY: It is, in a word, discreet. That's handy for those who IM at work. But Google Talk is aiming for something even handier: interoperability. George Harrek.

Mr. HARREK: Our aim is to make one IM network and make it like the e-mail system or like the phone system, where anyone can call.

ULABY: Some instant messaging systems already allow access to other systems. Michael Osterman runs a market research firm that specializes in technology. He says if it succeeds, Google Talk will create its own momentum.

Mr. MICHAEL OSTERMAN (Market Researcher): It's a sense of gravity, if you will. The more clients that an IM system has in use, the more likely it is to attract new people simply because of the greater likelihood that the people you want to contact are going to be on that system.

ULABY: Osterman says the company is taking steps to guarantee users' privacy, and taking chances such as using open source technology to ingratiate itself both with critics and casual Internet users alike. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.