Picture This: Video for Gmail

Google has announced a significant enhancement to the chat feature in its Gmail e-mail service with the addition of video and voice features. The free plug-in lets users start a video and voice (or voice-only) session within Gmail. You don’t have to launch a separate application to start a video session. AOL’s popular Instant Messenger service, for example, is its own separate application.

Google claims Gmail is the first “leading webmail service” to include video chat.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the new feature is being rolled out today to all Gmail accounts worldwide on a rolling basis. The effort began at noon today and it should be entirely complete within a day or so, Google said. It’s available to both Mac and PC users and the plug-in just needs to be downloaded once. You can switch to a full screen view or pop out the chat window and change the size as desired.

The news comes at a time of increased business interest in more collaborative technologies such as instant messaging services and social networks. Specialized video conferencing tools and systems have been available for years and, more recently, a variety vendors have offered Web-based video chat and conferencing software including networking giant Cisco via its purchase of WebEx. Google added a Video application to its Google Apps Premier Suite in September.

At last week’s Web 2.0 Summit, Intel CEO Paul Otellini demonstrated a prototype social network of the future with an online, integrated workspace that included communication tools for instant messaging, video, voice and e-mail. Otellini said the system is designed to also learn from the user to, over time, proactively provide more relevant information.

Video for All?

In addition to the consumer version, Gmail is part of Google’s Apps Premier suite for business that competes more directly with Microsoft’s Office suite. Analyst Charles King said today’s news may well put pressure on other e-mail providers to offer video chat features.

“When Google got into e-mail and was the first to offer loads of free online storage, it really started shifting how users viewed what their online experience should be,” said King, principal analyst with Pund-IT.

“Specifically, that they should have access to these services for free or very little money. Google keeps upping the ante for the rest of the industry by leveraging its infrastructure to offer these services for free.”

Adapted from Internetnews.com.

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