Real-time collaborative chat, like examples of apps like Slack, has become a common way to communicate between colleagues and friends, especially since last year when so many of us switched to working from home. Google has apparently noticed this and is opposed to Slack by taking two of the features from its corporate Workplace app suite – Chat and Rooms – and integrating them into its standard Gmail app.
Google Chat lets you chat with friends and groups of friends on an informal or formal basis. The former can be done only between two people or between several in what Google calls a group conversation. The latter is done via a separate site that Google currently calls a room.
What is the difference? According to Google, Chat is simply a way for two or more people to chat together without formalities ̵
A Room, on the other hand, is for more long-term conversations. Each room has its own name, is still available for people to leave and rejoin, will send out alerts and can share files. You can even have rooms in the rooms. It is for work projects, party planning or other activities where you want to keep the conversation going for days, weeks or longer.
If this sounds useful to you, the first step is to enable Google Chat for your Gmail account. For now, you should at least do it separately in your browser and on your mobile device.
Enable Chat in a mobile app
- Touch the three-line icon at the top left. Scroll down and select “Settings”.
- Select your account
- Select “General”
- If you’re using an Android phone, select the “Show Chat and Rooms” tabs. If you are using an iPhone or iPad, you can turn on “Show the chat and room tab” on.
- Note: if you are using an iPhone / iPad, you will need to close and open Gmail manually to enable the Chat feature
At the bottom of the screen, instead of just Mail and Meet icons, you now also have Chat and Room icons.
Enable Chat in a browser
- Go to your Gmail account and go to settings (gear icon in the top right)
- Select “Show all settings”
- Select “Chat and Meet” in the top menu
- You have the choice to select “Chat”, “Classic Hangouts” and “Off”. Assuming you want to try Chat, click on it.
- Normally, Chat will appear on the left side of the Gmail screen, but you can choose to display it on the right side instead.
- By the way, “Chat and Meet” lets you hide the Meet section of Gmail if you want
- Click “Save Changes”
Your Gmail screen will be updated, and you’ll probably get a popup welcoming you to “new Gmail.” Instead of the Meet and Hangouts boxes that used to be on the left side of the Gmail screen, you now have a Chat box, a Room box, and a Meet box. Contacts that you have previously chatted with via Hangouts appear in the new Chat box; Click on their names, and a small pop-up window at the bottom left will show you the previous conversations. (Note that if you have previously blocked someone in Hangouts, that block will not be transferred to Chat.)
Before we go into more detail on how to use Google Chat, you may notice some other small differences after the update. To begin with, the icon that looked like a quotation mark at the bottom of the left column – which referred to Google Hangouts – is now being replaced by a couple of quote bubbles. The previous large “Type” button in the upper left corner will be replaced (why, I’m not sure) by an inconvenient little pencil icon. And you now have a button to the right of the search box that allows you to choose to be active, away or undisturbed; you can also enter your own status.
Start a chat online
- To start a new chat, you have a choice: you can click the “Find a chat” link in the Chat box, or you can click the plus sign in the corners of the Chat or Rooms boxes. Either way, you get a drop-down menu.
- If you only want to chat with a single person, enter the name in the top field, and you will be taken to a small chat box. (You can maximize it if you want.) To chat with more than one person, select “Group conversation.” You will then be able to list the people you want to chat with.
- The same menu also allows you to start a room (more on that later), browse existing rooms or search for message requests (in other words, search for previous requests for calls from other people).
Start a chat in a mobile app
- Tap the Chat icon and then the little popup “New Chat” in the lower right corner
- You can enter the name of a person here, or you can create a room or browse existing rooms
- To make a group conversation (in other words, have a chat with several people), first enter the name of the first person you want to chat with (or select their name from the drop-down list), then tap on the group icon that appears in the same field you enter and add other names
People invited to your chat will receive an email with a link, and will have the opportunity to join the conversation or block it; if they are on Hangouts or Chat, they will get an alert.
Whether you are using the Internet or a mobile app, type in the field at the bottom of the screen to add a new message. A series of icons to the page or below the input field allow you to add emoji, upload a file, add a file from Google Drive, start a video conference (mainly launch Google Meet) and schedule an event.
Make a room
- On the web, go to the Chat box or the Room box to the left of Gmail and click on the plus sign. Tap the Room icon in the mobile app.
- Select “Create room”
- Make a room name and add the people you want to include. (If they are not on your contact list, you can just enter their email address.) Click “Create”. You will be led into the new room.
- The people who are invited will receive an email with a link. When they click on the link, they are shown the new room and given the opportunity to join it or block it. (If they have not yet joined Chat, they will receive notifications from Hangouts.)
- To add a new message, type in the field at the bottom of the screen. Like Chat, a series of icons to the right of the field allow you to add emoji, upload a file, add a file from Google Drive, start a video conference (which actually launches Google Meet), and schedule an event.
A few notes about rooms: If you have created a room using a personal account (as opposed to a business account), everyone in the room can change the name. There are a few other rules for using rooms that you will find on a Google support page. It’s a bit confusing what applies only to business accounts and which to personal accounts, but hopefully Google will fix that in the near future.