Google Chat

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How to activate and use Google Chat

Real-time collaborative conversation, as represented by programs like Slack, has become a regular way to interact amongst colleagues and friends, particularly since many of us began working from home in early 2020. In mid-2021, Google appears to have taken notice of this and decided to take on Slack by merging two features from its corporate Workplace software suite — Chat and Spaces (formerly known as Rooms) — into its basic Gmail client.

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 location that Google currently maintains.

What’s the difference between the two? According to Google, chat is just a method for two or more people to converse without any formality — for instance, if you wanted to quickly discuss where you were going to meet for lunch, you’d start a group conversation among your pals. If you’re using a personal account rather than a Workspace account, once the chat is finished, it’ll be erased after five days.

A space, on the other hand, is reserved for more in-depth discussions. Each space has its own identity, is free to leave and rejoin, 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 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
  • Scroll down to “General”
  • If you’re using an Android phone, check off “Show the chat and spaces tabs.” If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, toggle the “Show the chat and spaces tab” on.

Activate Chat on a mobile app

  • Tap the three-line icon at the top-left corner. Scroll down and select “Settings.”
  • Select your account
  • Scroll down to “General”
  • If you’re using an Android phone, check off “Show the chat and spaces tabs.” If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, toggle the “Show the chat and spaces tab” on.

On the bottom of the screen, instead of just Mail and Meet icons, you’ll now also have Chat and Spaces icons.

Activate Chat on a browser

  • Go to your Gmail account and go to settings (the gear icon in the upper-right corner)
  • Select “See all settings”
  • In the top menu, select “Chat and Meet”
  • You have the choice of selecting “Google 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”

You’ll now have a Chatbox, a Spaces 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.) Also, notice the option to the right of the search box, which allows you to select whether you want to be active, away, or undisturbed; you may also enter your status.

Begin a chat on the web

  • To start a new Chat, click on the plus sign in the corners of the Chat or Spaces boxes. 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 pop-up chatbox. (You can maximize it if you want.) If you want to chat with more than one person, then select “Start group conversation.” You’ll then be able to list the people you want to chat with.
  • The same menu also lets you start a space (more on that later), browse existing spaces, 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 (there will be a list of your frequent contacts below the links), or you can create a space or browse existing spaces.
  • If you want to create a group conversation (in other words, have a chat with several people), 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 or a photo, initiate an audio or video meeting (basically, start Google Meet), and book an event, among other things, using a set of icons (the location of which depends on whether you’re using the mobile or web app). On the mobile app, you can add a GIF, a calendar invite, or a Google Drive file to your chat message by tapping the + sign to the left of the bottom field; on the web app, most of these options are available on the right side of the field.

Create a Space

  • On the web, go to the Chatbox or the Space box on the left of Gmail and click on the plus sign. In the mobile app, tap on the Spaces icon.
  • Select “Create space.”
  • Create a space 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 space.
  • The people who are invited will get an email with a link. When they click on the link, they will be shown the new space and allowed 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 (on the web) or via the plus sign (on mobile) lets you add emoji, upload a file, add a file from Google Drive, start an audio or video meeting (which is essentially starting Google Meet), and schedule an event.

A few comments about spaces: if you create a space with a personal account (rather than a corporate account), anyone in the space can change the name. On a Google support page, there are a few more restrictions on the use of spaces.