Google announced Tuesday it is adding video and audio chat to its free e-mail service, joining Microsoft and Yahoo in a race to make communication on the Web a more social experience.
Both Microsoft and Yahoo offer video with their instant messaging services, but have not integrated it into e-mail.
“I think it’s a nice addition and some people will use it, but I don’t think it will drive huge adoption of gmail, ” said Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence, referring to Google’s free e-mail service.
Video chat is also a popular feature of Skype, eBay’s calling service, and has been the focus of a number of start-ups, including Paltalk, Stickam and Camfrog.
Gmail is the third-largest e-mail service, with 113 million worldwide users as of September 2008, behind Microsoft, which had 283 million users and Yahoo which had 274 million, according to comScore.
While e-mail was regarded as the killer app of the 1990s, prompting hundreds of millions of people to embrace personal computers, it is still not yet a money maker for Internet companies.
Advertising displayed around e-mail messages is not very successful, because users do not want to be distracted.
Lately, developers have begun to view e-mail as the starting point for connecting to other online services that people may be willing to pay for, like Netflix.
Last month, Yahoo announced it was providing programmers the software instructions they need to write applications that can extend the features of Yahoo mail. Ash Patel, executive vice president of the audience product division, said the goal was to help hundreds of millions of users “communicate better and get more done.”
Microsoft has also been upgrading its communication platform, known as Windows Live.