GOOGLE CHAT: Real-time collaborative chat, as demonstrated by apps like Slack, has become a frequent way for colleagues and friends to interact, especially since so many of us began working from home last year. Google appears to have noticed this and is attempting to compete with Slack by incorporating two features from its corporate Workplace software suite — Chat and Rooms — into its basic Gmail interface.
Google Conversation allows you to have informal or formal chat sessions with your friends and groups of friends. The former can be done between two people or among a group of people in what Google refers to as a group conversation. The latter is accomplished through a distinct place known as a Room by Google.
What’s the difference between the two? According to Google, Chat is just a method for two or more people to communicate without any formality — for example, if you wanted to quickly discuss where you were going to meet for lunch, you’d start a group conversation with your pals. It’s over when the conversation is finished.
A Room, on the other hand, is designed for more in-depth discussions. Each room has its own name, maybe left and rejoined at any time, sends out notifications, and allows users to share files. It’s perfect for business projects, party planning, or any other activity in which you want to keep the dialogue continuing for days, weeks, or even months.’
If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, the first step is to enable Google Chat for your Gmail account. You must do it separately on your browser and on your mobile device for the time being.
ACTIVATE CHAT ON A MOBILE APP
- Tap the three-line icon at the top-left corner. Scroll down and select “Settings.”
- Select your account
- Select “General”
- If you’re using an Android phone, check off “Show the Chat and Rooms tabs.” If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, toggle “Show the chat and rooms tab” on.
- Note: if you’re using an iPhone / iPad, you’ll have to close and re-open Gmail manually to activate the Chat feature
On the bottom of the screen, instead of just Mail and Meet icons, you’ll now also have Chat and Rooms icons.
ACTIVATE CHAT ON A BROWSER
- Go to your Gmail account and go to settings (the gear icon in the upper-right corner)
- Select “View all settings”
- In the top menu, select “Chat and Meet”
- You have the choice of selecting “Chat,” “Classic Hangouts,” and “Off.” Assuming you want to try Chat, click on that.
- Usually, Chat will appear on the left side of your Gmail screen, but you can choose to have it appear on the right side instead
- By the way, “Chat and Meet” lets you hide the Meet section in Gmail if you want to
- Click on “Save Changes”
Your Gmail interface will refresh, and a pop-up will most likely welcome you to the “new Gmail.” You’ll now have a Chatbox, a Rooms box, and a Meet box instead of the Meet and Hangouts boxes that used to be on the left-hand side of your Gmail screen. Any contacts with whom you previously had Hangouts talks will display in the new Chatbox; click on their names to see those past discussions in a small pop-up window in the lower left. (Note that if you previously blocked someone on Hangouts, the blocking will not be carried over to Chat.)
You may notice some additional minor adjustments following the refresh before we get into the intricacies of how to use Google Chat. To begin, a couple of quote bubbles will replace the icon that looked like a quote mark at the bottom of your left column, which referred to Google Hangouts. The old enormous “Compose” button in the upper-left corner will be replaced by an inconveniently small pencil icon (for reasons I don’t understand). You can now select to be active, away, or undisturbed by clicking the option to the right of the search box; you can also enter in your own status.
BEGIN A CHAT ON THE WEB
- To start a new Chat, you have a choice: you can click on the “Find a chat” link in the Chatbox, or you can click on the plus sign in the corners of the Chat or Rooms boxes. Either way, you’ll get a drop-down menu.
- If you want to just chat with a single person, type their name into the top field, and you will be taken into a small chatbox. (You can maximize it if you want.) If you want to chat with more than one person, then select “Group conversation.” You’ll then be able to list the people you want to chat with.
- The same menu also lets you start a room (more on that later), browse existing rooms, or search for message requests (in other words, search for previous requests for chats from other people).
BEGIN A CHAT ON A MOBILE APP
- Tap on the Chat icon and then on the small “New chat” popup in the lower-right corner
- You can type in the name of a person here, or you can create a room or browse existing rooms
- If you want to create a group conversation (in other words, have a chat with several people), first type in the name of the first person you want to chat with (or choose their name from the drop-down list), then tap on the group icon that will appear in the same field you’re typing in, and add any other names
People who have been invited to your chat will receive an email with a link and the opportunity to join or block the conversation; if they are using Hangouts or Chat, they will receive a notification.
To add a new message, enter into the field at the bottom of the screen, whether you’re using the web or a mobile app. You can add emoji, upload a file, add a file from Google Drive, start a video meeting (basically, launch Google Meet) and plan an event using a series of icons to the side or below the entry area.
CREATE A ROOM
- On the web, go to the Chatbox or the Room box on the left of Gmail and click on the plus sign. In the mobile app, tap on the Rooms icon.
- Select “Create room”
- Create a room name and add the people you want to include. (If they’re not on your contact list, you can just type in their email address.) Click “Create.” You’ll be taken into the new room.
- The people who are invited will get an email with a link. When they click on the link, they will be shown the new room and given the opportunity to either join it or block it. (If they haven’t joined Chat yet, they will get notifications from Hangouts.)
- To add a new message, type into the field at the bottom of the screen. Like Chat, a series of icons on the right of the field lets you add emoji, upload a file, add a file from Google Drive, start a video meeting (which is essentially starting Google Meet), and schedule an event.
A couple of notes about rooms: if you’ve created a room using a personal account (as opposed to a business account), anyone in the room can change its name. There are a few other rules as to the use of rooms that can be found on a Google support page; it’s a little confusing as to which apply just to business accounts and which to personal accounts, but hopefully, Google will fix that in the near future.