I've always liked the word "moribund" and up until the past couple of days, it was a perfect adjective to describe Google Talk. I've had a hard time getting friends and associates interested in using Google's IM client - most claimed they saw nothing there that made them interested in switching.
Answers.com defines moribund as: not growing or changing; without force or vitality
That about sums up the sad state Google Talk had fallen into for me. Only a couple of my geekiest contacts were ever online. Most people stuck with what they had been using - one or more of the standard choices like AIM, Yahoo! IM, or MSN Messenger. For the truly diehard IM'ers, the preference was either GAIM or Trillian. Oh... and then there's Skype.
Given that so many people I correspond with use Gmail, the lack of Google Talk adoption always seemed a bit strange. Recent announcements of federation with Jabber did nothing to really perk up any interest either. It appeared to me, from every indication, that Google Talk had fallen victim to what Joel (on Software) Spolsky calls the Marimba phenomenon. In fact, Joel just invoked that reference in today's post about the recent wave of AJAX-y, Web 2.0 calendars:
"Listen, I know that everybody is saying that the cool thing to do these days is Ship Early and Often, but when you ship half-baked ajax calendars that don't do much and then get Scoble to go nuts about how great they are, well, you're going to have a lot of people like me checking it out and realizing that, for example, no thought whatsoever has gone into printing, which is fine, it's a 1.0 release, but you know what? I'm not going to look at 30 Boxes again -- I've spent enough time evaluating it. G'bye. I've talked about this before -- it's the Marimba phenomenon -- when you get premature publicity, lots of people check out your thing, and it's not done yet, so now most of the people that tried your thing think it's lame, and now you have two problems: your thing is lame and everybody knows it."
But then something happened that I haven't seen for a while. A touch of that old Google magic appeared with the appearance of a new Chat category in Gmail and the announcement that Google was rolling out an integrated IM capability for Gmail users that leverages the Google Talk buddy list. Google Talk. Google Talk was suddenly a bit more shiny (in the Firefly sense of the term of course). You don't need Google Talk installed to use Gmail chat but the two work and play together very nicely.
Now you know how Google feature lotto works if you've been using Gmail. Some folks get it right away, others have to wait. Happily, I only had to wait until today. Gmail flashed a new page open to announce to me that I was now chat-enabled and sure enough, there in the sidebar was a new contact list showing my Google Talk buddies and the option to add folks from my Gmail contacts.
The chat is nicely implemented. IM windows sit on top of your Gmail page, display the state of the person you're chatting with (Bob is now typing), and can be popped open into new browser pages. Nothing terribly fancy but the integration with Gmail works. While testing it out yesterday, I saw one of my buddies was present and available so, instead of sending a Gmail message, I initiated a chat session. Gmail dutifully recorded the transcript which is now stored and indexed along with my conventional e-mail correspondence with this person. When I search on his contact record, I see both. It's pretty sweet. One caveat - exit Gmail and you close all of your IM sessions.
Gmail Chat also pops up a contact card when you mouse over a Gmail sender or recipient name, providing a quick way to initiate a new IM session or review prior conversations with that person. So, the bottom line is that Gmail Chat is not likely to switch anyone away from the IM client(s) they're currently using but it adds another dimension to Gmail and provides a kind of immediacy missing from e-mail correspondence. The big win comes from saving the chat transcripts and having the ability to search against them after them the fact in the same environment as mail.
I've just downloaded the new Google Desktop 3 and it's indexing my Tablet PC right now. Once it's finished that task, I'll take a look at its new features (advance warning - the privacy issue is rearing its head all over again) and report back on what I like about the latest version. It looks like it too has a bit more of that old Google magic.