How Google Talk Works

instant messages
Google Talk offers an easy, inexpensive way to send instant messages.
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If you're looking for an easy, inexpensive way to send instant messages, Google Talk may be right for you. While it doesn't offer as many features as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger or Microsoft Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk messaging is uncluttered with ads and free to use.

Once you download Google Talk, you're set for instant messaging from your computer or through a browser, although only with other Google Talk or Gmail users.


Google Talk is one of the newer competitors for the IM market. It was launched in 2005, following AIM in 1997 and MSN Messenger (now Windows Live Messenger) and Yahoo Messenger in 1999. So far, it lags far behind those well-known services in users. In January 2008, for example, Windows Live Messenger had 235 million unique visits, while Google Talk had fewer than 5 million [source: comScore].

But Google Talk has its fans among users who want a straightforward IMing service. And although Google Talk started lean, it keeps adding features like file transmission through chat windows, PC-to-PC voice calls and voice mail, emoticons, Google Talk on your Google home page, and chatback for your blog [source: CNet].

What are some of the features of Google Talk? How do you use it? And, what's Google Talk Gadget? Let's start with the basics.


Google Talk Basics

computer phone calls
Google Talk users can make PC-to-PC phone calls.
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Using Google Talk is easy. There are two ways to get started: register and download Google Talk, if you have a PC, or connect on the Web by launching Google Talk Gadget. Either way, you're ready to start instant messaging. And that's not hard to do, either.

We'll talk more about Google Talk Gadget on the next page, but here's how to download Google Talk messaging:


  • Go to Google Talk and click on "Download Google Talk."
  • Set up a Google account with a user name and password.
  • Follow the prompts to download the software. (Google Talk will start up automatically with your Windows applications.)
  • Sign in, invite friends to talk and chat. If you use Gmail, those contacts will be included automatically on your Google Talk Friends list. You can talk to them as soon as they also install Google Talk, and you can add more friends to your list.

[source: Google Talk Help Center]

Google Talk won't give you access to RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and 200 plug-ins, like Yahoo Messenger, or let you have a live video chat, like Windows Live Messenger. But you'll still be able to do plenty with Google Talk besides just chat. Here are more of its features:

  • Send unlimited file transfers to your contacts. Files can be Word documents, spreadsheets, photos, music, video or more -- without restrictions on file type, size or bandwidth. Google Talk shows estimated completion times for longer downloads. You can chat while a file is downloading, but remember that longer files may cost you more in Internet use time.
  • Make free PC-to-PC voice calls to anyone who is online and has Google Talk. Note, though, that you'll need an Internet connection, a microphone and a speaker and that, while making the call is free, your Internet service provider will charge for the time used. To make a call, find the person on your friends' list, click the phone icon next to the name, wait for the person to answer and start talking.
  • Send and receive voice mails with friends who aren't online. If someone doesn't pick up your Google Talk call, you'll be sent to voice mail, where you can leave a message of up to 10 minutes. The message goes to the person's e-mail account as an MP3 file titled "Voicemail from …". Your contact can download it or simply click "Play" in Gmail. You also can use "Send Voicemail" in the friends list to send a voice message without calling.
  • Receive notifications on your desktop of new messages in your Gmail box. A notification window and a snippet of the message will appear above the Google Talk icon each time someone sends you a new message.

Google Talk via download, called Google Talk Client, offers a lot more features, including bots to translate messages between English and 13 other languages. For more about the bots and other features, or for help, check the Google Talk Client section of Google's Help Center.

If you're a Mac user or want to access your Google Talk account from somewhere other than your own computer, you need Google Talk Gadget. Let's look at what it can do next .


Google Talk Gadget

With Google Talk, users can cut and paste videos from popular sites like YouTube.
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You can access Google Talk and do instant messaging from a Mac or any other computer with Internet access -- even your BlackBerry -- with Web-based Google Talk Gadget. While this application offers many of the features of Google Talk messaging, it has some fun features of its own. Because there's no download, you can start chatting immediately after you register for a Google account or embed the gadget in your personal Google page or Web site.

With Google Talk Gadget, you can use your friends list and IM with your Google Talk and Gmail contacts, as you can with Google Talk Client. You also can receive offline messages and save a chat history if you also have Gmail. Unlike the downloadable version, you also can:


  • Invite several people to chat with you in a group.
  • Cut and paste video and slideshow URLs from YouTube, Google Video, Picasa Web Albums and Flickr into your chats and view them in your chat window.
  • Add Google Talk to your personalized iGoogle home page.
  • Embed the Google Talk Gadget into your own Web page or blog to enable chatback.
  • Chat in any of 22 languages or dialects.

However, while Google is enhancing Google Talk Gadget, it currently doesn't offer these features of Google Talk Client:

  • File transfer
  • Voice mail
  • Voice calls (unless you run Google Talk Client at the same time)
  • Sending of offline messages
  • Notifications for new chats, friends coming online or new G-mail messages

To get started with Google Talk Gadget, you need to first register as a Google user with a user name and password. Once you have that, you can add the Google Talk Gadget to your iGoogle home page or to your Web site or blog.

Note that you'll need the latest free version of Flash installed in your browser and, if you're using a Mac, you need to use the Firefox browser instead of Safari. To download Flash for Mac, go to Adobe. To download Firefox for Mac, go to Mozilla Firefox.

To add the Google Talk Gadget to your Web site, you need to paste a line of code into your site's HTML. For instructions and the code, go to Google Support.

Google Talk for BlackBerry lets you add IM features to your mobile phone. You can e-mail and play games while you chat.

There's more to Google Talk Gadget, and new features are constantly being added. For more about other features or for help, check the Google Talk Gadget section of Google's Help Center.

Google Talk has plenty to offer, but it's not without some problems. Keep reading to learn about them and some possible solutions.


Problems with Google Talk

With Google Talk, users can use a Webcam to take a picture of themselves and post on their contact list.
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Google Talk offers some great features, but it has some problems and limitations, too. For instance, Google Talk messaging can only be done with other Google Talk and Gmail users. Beyond that, you have to download Google Talk and also have a Gmail account to get features such as chat history and offline chats.

Even then, available features are more limited than those offered by Yahoo Messenger and  other instant messaging services. And Google Talk features are more limited on the Web-based Google Talk Gadget, which is the only version available to Mac and mobile users.


Google Talk is no different from providers like Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger in keeping IMing among its registered users. (Although Yahoo and Windows users can now IM with each other.) And Google Talk offers many of the same features as AIM, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger.

Because Google Talk is newer than these services, Google has had less time to expand its features. But something new is being added all the time. For instance, you can now show your contacts the music you're listening to at that moment. Any time your music player starts a new song the track name and artist information are updated. And you can check out what Google Talk users are listening to around the world.

With Google Talk Gadget, you also can use your Webcam to take a picture of yourself and then post it at the top of your friends list. Your friends will see the picture as your Google Talk picture in their contacts lists.

One of the best places to learn about new features is at Google Talkabout, a blog where Google developers share the latest news about Google Talk. You can give your feedback while you're there, or seek answers from other users or join in with the Google Talk Help discussion group.

We've given you information here about Google Talk and its features, but Google Talk is continuously evolving. For lots more information about GoogleTalk and related topics, check out the links on the next page.