Google has a friendly talk-in-the-hallway kind of culture that I love, but Google engineers seem to be everywhere now, from Bangalore to Tokyo to Dublin to Zurich. I work on a team that's in Mountain View, Kirkland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. We like to talk about the projects we're working on, but a hallway is hard to come by. So we've put together a gadget that keeps us talking, even when we're on different sides of the planet.

It's called Google Talk — a small program that lets you call and IM other Google Talk friends over the Internet for free. We're releasing it in beta today for all Gmail users (once you sign on, you can start inviting any of your friends to try it too).

The sound is great — usually much better than a regular phone — and it's a perfect way to use that computer microphone you never realized you had. My laptop with its built-in mic makes a superb speakerphone. Google Talk also works great with just about any standard mic or headset you can plug in to a computer.

We're already finding that Google Talk is pretty useful, as it's great to be able to see when friends are awake and online in London, Tokyo, or the exotic Kirkland Public Library. And of course it's wonderful to be able to ring friends on a whim, without having to dial all those pesky country codes.

Geeks in particular might notice that the Google Talk service runs on the open XMPP protocol. So even though many people will log on using Google Talk, you can also use iChat, GAIM, Trillian, Adium, Psi, or another one of the many great XMPP clients out there.

There's a reason for that openness. We believe Internet communication networks should openly interoperate, and that they should include IM and voice. The openness of the Google Talk service to XMPP clients is just a start. We like SIP too, and we want to also federate between servers. We've already started working with our friends at EarthLink and Sipphone to federate our respective real-time communications services so all our users can talk to each other for free. If you're interested in federating with us or would like to interoperate in a way that we have not yet implemented, let us know.