Google Chat Review: Good for consumer chat software, bad as a Slack clone

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Google Talk was Google’s inaugural chat application that started in 2005 (it’s often unofficially nicknamed “GChat”). In 2013, Google Talk got an in-place upgrade to Google Hangouts, which was (mostly) compatible with Google’s OG chat service. Now, Google Hangouts users will be seamlessly upgraded to Google Chat, resulting in 16 years of turbulent-but-functional Google messaging.

Consumers hardly ever find Google’s chat tool unpleasant. It was designed with businesses in mind. Recently, Google Chat was made available to users, so now is the perfect moment to revisit everyone’s favourite topic: Google messaging services! The most recent in Google’s long and prolific line of (often) transient chat services, Google Chat is a little more significant than most of the others. While the “~2 years and under” club is packed full of losers—like Google Wave (2009-2010), Buzz (2010-2011), Disco (2011-2012), Google+ Messenger (2011-2013), Spaces (2016-2017), Allo (2016-2019), and YouTube Messages (2017-2019)—one continual throughline has been original Google Talk users.

Highlights

  • Google has presided over some dumpster-fire service transitions recently. But when the inevitable Google Hangouts shutdown arrives (date still TBD), our time with Google Chat so far indicates that won’t be a huge disaster.  Enterprise first: Why Google Chat actually has a chance at survival. You could fill a graveyard with Google’s previous instant-messaging apps, but—and I can’t believe I’m going to write this—I genuinely think Google Chat has a better chance at survival than its many ancestors. The big factor is “money.” Despite Google’s machine-gun fire of messaging-app releases, until now Google has never released a messaging app with a solid monetization plan. Google Chat changes that.

  • These days it feels like all I do is spread doom and gloom about Google’s latest shutdowns or dead-on-arrival messaging app rollouts. But know up front that Google Chat is actually pretty good! Needing to be compatible with Google Hangouts—to date, Google’s best-ever messaging app—means it’s also a worthy successor to Google Hangouts. This app has lots of client support, online accounts instead of the limited phone number system pushed by Google Pay and Google Allo, and a smooth transition process for your existing chats and contacts. It’s not as fully featured as more stable chat systems that have been around for years, but if you’re looking for the basics across tons of devices, this 1.0 version of Google Chat is truthfully not bad.

Technically, Hangouts spent some time as part of the Google Workspace package, too, but I’m filing the eventual death of Hangouts under “not invented here” syndrome. Hangouts and Google Chat are both Google products, but Google’s various divisions don’t really work together or coordinate in the end. That’s part of why we’ve had so many messaging apps to begin with. Hangouts was born from the Google+ Project, which was the one time Google worked together as a company (bribes were needed to make that happen). When Google+ died, Hangouts became an orphan. Hangouts was eventually adopted by the G Suite division, but it never really met the needs of businesses, so it was discarded.

Google Chat grew out of the Google Workspace (previously called “G Suite”) division as a competitor to Slack. Google charges money for Workspace, and that makes it one of the more stable branches of Google’s product line. Earning money usually means survival, and Google Chat will be earning money as part of Workspace.

 

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