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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Why Gtalk?

After remaining quiet, slow but steady for many years after its inception, google finally charged up the flux capacitors and launched a dozen or so new products in a heartbeat. Practically all of those products leverage googles traditional strengths in the search and massive database area. Google has this amazingly scalable google file system which allows them to host and serve huge amounts of quasi-static content efficiently, quickly, and most importantly, inexpensively. Put together with their extensive use of AJAX technologies, which reduces the processing load on their servers and reduces the bandwidth bill, google completely changed the economics of massive web applications. They demonstrated it to perfection with their 2+ GB email service, Newsgroup service, Google Maps, Google Video, Blogging service, Photo hosting service etc. All of these have in common a few basic facets:

  • They require humongous amounts of server space
  • Content, once stored on servers, does not change quickly (unlike, say a credit card database)
  • These are services which people expect to not have to pay for.
  • These services bring with them a lot of eyeballs, and have infinite potential for viral marketing.
Given Google already had a good revenue stream through their enterprise search products and Ad serving business, as long as Google captures enough eyeballs (and serves them relevant Ads), the whole strategy was working out fine. Microsoft tried to increase the mailbox size in hotmail to somewhere around Gmail sizes, but they soon ran into architecture level issues, and have yet to complete a roll out of even 25MB spaces to all its users, let alone 100 times that as google provides. In short, its not easy to beat google on these turfs.

Then came Gtalk. This is a unique offering from google in many respects:

  • All other google offerings are best-in-class (or almost so): Gtalk is a sorry excuse for a textchat/voicechat client, with a feature set none of the zillions of Free chat projects on sourceforge would be proud of. No smileys, no user profile access, no ticker service (well, not that i am complaining, but u get my drift), no file xfer, no webcam.
  • All other google offerings involve they obtaining information about your web usage and then serving you with nice little unobtrusive ads based on your interest: Gtalk could potentially offer such an opportunity, but inserting ads in the middle of conversations would be "icky" and could back fire. There is, of course, no question of serving ads based on the content of voice chat (atleast with current technology).
  • As mentioned, all other offerings leverage the amazing GFS: Gtalk does not build upon anything which is unique to google, thus making it a "me too", in contrast to the other services which were worlds best practically at launch.
Thus, in my not-so-humble-opinion, the reasons for googles launch of Gtalk are a bit of a mystery. Here I will try and expound (rather pompish, that, eh? ) on what I believe their reasons could be:

  • Cause they can: Gtalk does not add a lot to their resource useage. Having a chat service adds to the already-ridiculously-inflated worth of a gmail account/invite.For people who like a massive mailbox, but also love chat/talk, this allows them to stay within the google fold.
  • Useful addition to their Gmail notifier: I never really took to the gmail notifier, seemed too much of a luxury to run a full application just to ping a mailbox. With Gtalk, the notifier comes built in, and there is a genuine value addition to keeping that app running at all times.
  • As a first step towards getting a permanent foothold on user Desktops: While desktop search and its new sidebar does that admirably for advanced and power users, it doesnt penetrate the general masses. Gtalk can help there. A later version of Gtalk can incorporate the sidebar(now that would be nice), thus allowing google full time access to the user finally (this having been their biggest weakness vis-a-vis Microsoft). Of course, how they plan to make money off it is still a question.
  • To commoditize voicechat/voip: While Google has a history of following open standards whenever possible, building their whole gtalk service on a completely open protocol is still a surprise, and something which none of its competitors has dared to do. Using the jabber protocol implies that right from the start, one doesnt need the official gtalk client to use the Gtalk network, all open source jabber clients are already Gtalk clients. This could lead to some very interesting hacks. But biggest of all, this implies that making any kind og money out of text/voice chat just got even more difficult. This could be just a disruptive attempt to wrest away a little bit of desktop control from Yahoo/Microsoft, even if google doesnt directly gain what it took away from these two.

What do you think Googles motivation is for Gtalk? Can they beat MSN/Yahoo? Are they even trying to?


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i beg to differ...yahoo mesenger, skype and voipstunt rule ! gtalk is anything but good!

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