Sunday, August 28, 2005

Wild and crazy ideas for Google Talk features.

Engadget had a "How would you change Google Talk?" thread this weekend. Some of the user submitted ideas were good, and some were not. A few people suggested cluttersome "features" that would probably take away from the overall experience. (Why? See "Why Good Programmers Are Lazy and Dumb.")

There were some wild suggestions, but overall, the ideas weren't quite crazy enough for me. Here are some of my wild ideas:
  • Context sensitive links in a little window to the side. If I start talking to my brother about "Burning Man", Talk could auto-search for "burning man" and show the links to both of us. This integrates nicely with the next feature:
  • Ability to use Talk to initiate shared browsing. A discussion could take place half in Google Talk and half through the links we share with each other. Of course, if you're going to allow shared web browsing, you should also allow:
  • Photo sharing in Talk. Google's "Hello" already does that, in an IM-type program, already! I guess it would be nice to see Hello and Talk merge. Integrate with Picasa as much as possible.
  • Google Earth sharing. My dad and my sister looked for hotels in Monterey for a vacation, and they found a great location by loading up Google Earth. They were 2000 miles apart at the time, so they had to describe in words, over the phone, what they were looking at. Why not allow a shared Google Earth session?
  • Web access to Google Talk. A simplified web version, for when I need to chat but I don't have a machine I can install the full Talk client on?
  • More than two users in a "conference call", both in voice and chat. Not such a wild feature, but needed for the next feature...
  • Release easy-to-use libraries and help developers of games integrate Jabber support into their chat systems. Game developers keep coming up with their own in-game chat systems; make it easier to just use Google Talk. Yes, I still want this to happen.
  • Video chat. Actually, that probably just dorks things up, scratch that.
But I have an even wilder idea. I was thinking about the possibility of archiving all conversations that happen in Google Talk. And I mean ALL conversation; not just text, but voice conversations, too. (Yes, this has some privacy issues; we'll get to those below.) The archives wouldn't be that useful unless you could search them, which means you would need the ability to index and search voice conversations.

This might not be as hard as it sounds: computer voice recognition has problems, but maybe you don't have to be dead on to present a list of conversations sorted by "likely match". If the user searches for "Manta Ray" but gets a conversation where he actually said "Monterey", he might tolerate that, especially if it showed up lower on the list of matches. Getting close might be good enough.

Of course this technology would work well with suggesting AdWords results to the topic of a voice conversation as it happens.

"But Mike," you say, "That would require a massive network of computers and massive storage." Google's got it. "But Mike, such a system would also require the ability to do voice recognition, without training, on thousands of simultaneous conversation." As it turns out, Google wouldn't even be the first guys there. The NSA's ECHELON system has been rumored to be doing exactly the type of archiving and voice recognition that I'm suggesting here. "But Mike, that's a little creepy." I can't say I disagree. Maybe the biggest obstacle wouldn't be technical, but would be getting over the feeling that the computer is LISTENING to you.

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