Gadget puts Google Talk on Web pages

A line of code will insert the chat client into Web pages, allowing users to chat via a Flash-based interface

A new Google gadget lets users embed the company's Talk instant-messaging service in Web pages, expanding the reach of the product, which was originally introduced as a downloadable PC application.

The Google Talk Gadget, released Wednesday, displays a Flash-based interface on Web pages for users to exchange text messages with people on their Google Talk contacts list. Unlike the Talk PC application, the gadget requires no software download. It loads automatically with the Web page it's on.

"This is definitely a smart move on Google's part to promote and increase Talk's exposure," said industry analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence.

Google launched Talk in August 2005, but it lags significantly in popularity behind older, more established IM services from AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo. It's a tough market to crack because it is inconvenient for people to switch from their preferred IM provider, Sterling said. This inconvenience is particularly due to the fact that the IM networks from AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo are built on proprietary protocols, and interoperability is neither widespread nor simple to achieve, Sterling said.

After months of hard work, Microsoft and Yahoo established a basic level of interoperability between their IM networks last year, and AOL interoperates to an extent with other services. In December 2005, Google and AOL announced a joint effort to make their IM services interoperable, but they haven't delivered on that promise yet.

In February 2007, AOL's AIM led the consumer IM market in the U.S. with 44.5 million unique users, followed by Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger with 26 million and Yahoo's Yahoo Messenger with 22.6 million users, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Google Talk had 1.7 million users, according to the market researcher. For its part, Google declines to give specific Talk usage numbers, saying only that it has "millions of active users."

By inserting a line of code, the gadget can be added to Web pages, including Google's Personalized Home Page, a customized Web portal users can tailor with Google and third-party online services and information sources. For the gadget to work, users must have version 8 or above of Adobe's Flash Player.

In addition to text messaging, people can use the gadget interface to initiate a voice chat, but the Talk application is needed to host the conversation, said Mike Jazayeri, Google Talk product manager. However, Google hopes to extend this functionality so that voice chats can happen within the gadget interface, he said.

The gadget has some features the PC application lacks, like the ability to organize multiple text chats with tabs and to share and watch photos and videos within the Talk interface from Google's Picasa photo manager and YouTube video site, he said. When asked if the Talk application will gain these features, he declined to comment.

Conversely, the gadget lacks some of the PC application's features, including the ability to transfer files and the voicemail functionality.

This isn't the first time Talk has been available in a format other than the downloadable application's interface. For example, last year, Google integrated Talk with the Gmail Webmail service. Likewise, thanks to Talk's open architecture, third-party developers have created mobile, Web, and PC interfaces for the instant-messaging service.

Like most consumer instant-messaging services, Google Talk is free.

This story was updated on March 15, 2007

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