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Google to Deliver Instant Messages

Times Staff Writer

Watchers of Google Inc. soon will have something new to chat about -- and with.

Continuing its rapid expansion into new product categories, the Internet search giant plans to launch an instant messaging program called Google Talk as early as Wednesday, according to people familiar with the service.

The new service follows by just a few days the introduction of Google Sidebar, which pulls news stories, photographs, weather updates, stock quotes and other features onto a user’s computer without opening a Web browser.

With all the new services, Google now competes with Internet portals such as Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s America Online squarely on their turf, even as those companies encroach onto Google’s with updated search engines.

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Google has been playing catch-up with many products, such as e-mail, a personalized home page at Google.com and online maps. The goal is to get consumers to stay longer, rather than simply search for websites and then click away.

Compiling a list of buddies to chat with through instant messaging provides the kind of “stickiness” these companies covet.

“Like any big company, they’ve got a brand name, and they’ve got to keep extending it,” said John Tinker, an analyst at Think Equity Partners who had not seen Google Talk.

“Because the reality is, there’s not a whole lot of difference between their search [engine] and anyone else’s.”

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According to a person who has seen the service, Google plans to let users chat using more than just their keyboards. Like similar programs from competitors, Google Talk also will let computer users with a headset have voice conversations with other computer users with headsets, this person said.

One source said Google intended to release the product Wednesday. Another source did not know when Google planned to release Google Talk, but said the company had been testing the service for at least a month.

A spokeswoman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said early Monday that the company planned to release a new product this week. She declined later in the day to say whether that product was Google Talk.

Google faces an uphill battle in persuading people to change instant messaging programs. These services are useful only if friends and family members also use it, and competing services from AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft have been available for years.

AOL plans in September to introduce a new version of its popular AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, program that lets users send e-mail and text messages to mobile phones. In addition, customers of AOL’s voice over Internet protocol service will be able use their AIM buddy lists to initiate calls to phones, not just computers. AIM leads the instant messaging pack, with 41.6 million U.S. users in July, according to research firm ComScore Media Metrix. Yahoo Messenger had 19.1 million users, and Microsoft’s MSN Messenger had 14.1 million.

But Google has not shied away from introducing products to compete with already entrenched competitors. When it launched its search engine in 1998, the field was crowded with companies that Google and the Internet crash have since put out of business.

Even if Google Talk doesn’t turn out to be revolutionary, Tinker said, “I don’t think that matters.”


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