Google may not be the innovator that everyone seems to think it is, but it has a great talent for spotting exploitable deficiencies in the current computer user's world. Case in point: Google Talk.

Fast on the heels of its new desktop search doohickey, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) today announced a long-awaited instant messaging program. (Its development was about as secret as the plumbing-related plot twist in The Crying Game.)

First things first. Some of the stories out there are claiming that this is a "net telephony" product. It's not. In fact, Google Talk isn't even much of a chat client, as early adopters will find out. In its current iteration, it's only able to connect users who are part of the just-hatched Google network.

In that respect, it's not much different from the competing standards offered by Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL, except that those systems already have millions of users. Run Google Talk today, and it's like showing up early at a cocktail party. You'll need to wait a while to exchange your urbane bons mots.

What makes Google's chat program such a threat to the status quo is what it plans to do: Connect everyone to everyone. Currently, you can't send messages to your MSN buddies if you're running the AOL or Yahoo! chat programs -- unless you clutter up you desktop by running all three. What Google will try to do is, for the first time, build bridges across all the competing products.

At least, that's the story you're going to hear today. Savvy techies will note that there are already free IM clients out there that cross the networks, handling several IM protocols at once. These Rosetta stones of instant messaging include Jabber, the open-source standard favored by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and said to be the backbone of Google's product.

But here's the catch: Current cross-platform products generally lack the video and audio capabilities of their more sophisticated but narrow-minded cousins. If Google can span the services without sacrificing the voice and video content that net users have come to expect, it will no doubt become the chat client of choice. And if it manages to integrate IM-to-telephone connectivity via voice over Internet protocol, then everyone from Vonage and Skype to Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) will be looking over their shoulders.

So what's in it for Google? VoiP fees? Perhaps someday. But for now, the same as usual. Eyeballs, data points, and traffic for its revenue-producing search products. As the firm moves toward becoming the premier portal, it stands to claim even more of the online ad market. And as its desktop tools and mail programs delve deeper into your files to learn more about what's on your mind, Google's search products can deliver more effective, targeted ads -- or so the theory goes.

What's clear to me is that the time has come for Microsoft, Yahoo!, and AOL to tear down their walls. If they hope to salvage their IM audiences, they're going to need to forget the old-fashioned idea of a captive audience and compete on the strength of their IM software. If they don't, they'll lose even more ground to Google's latest case of reinventing the wheel, and getting it right.

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Seth Jayson installs at least five new programs per week. Most of them -- like Google Talk -- don't make the cut. At the time of publication, he had no position in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here . Time Warner is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Fool rules arehere.