On Thursday, July 26, Google reported widespread outages for its popular chat client - Google Talk, which features chat, voice and video functionalities. Commonly referred to as Gchat, the service was first implemented by Google in 2005 for Gmail users and brought to business users when Google rolled out Google Apps in the summer of 2006.
I was personally affected by the outage as was my entire team in both our New York and Atlanta offices. The outage highlighted how much I rely on Gchat both for professional and personal communication and brought to my attention the significant amount of time I spend using the service, often times without even realizing it.
Although upwards of 90% of our customers have enabled Google Talk for their Google Apps domains, the service's wide capabilities are often overlooked. It was only when I couldn't use chat, that I realized how much I depend on it, and it got me to think, could Google Talk be Gmail's stickiest feature ever?
Unlike similar services such as Facebook Chat and Adium, Gchat is seamlessly integrated within the Gmail interface, making it possible to truly multitask. We sit in front of our computers for hours on end and if someone inside or outside my organization needs to reach me during work hours, they know I'm most likely in front of my computer and frequently checking my inbox, which is not always a good thing especially if you're doing a product demo for a customer.
Email reply via chat
Another great multitasking feature built into Google Talk lies within the People Widget at the top right of every email. Included in the People Widget is the ability to reply to an email via Google Talk. The chat conversation will include a hyperlink to the email so the person you are chatting with can refer back to the original email. Additionally, chats regarding the email will be automatically added to the thread.
Google's vast suite of features and tools gives users multiple ways to collaborate, whether it's in a document, a presentation or a Google Hangout. But more often than not, I find myself holding conversations with multiple team members not on a conference call, but through a group chat.
Holding a group chat in Google Talk is for me the fastest way to collaborate when I'm not sitting in the same room with fellow collaborators.
Voice and video calling
If you find you can't communicate your idea to teammates through group chat, you can always just click the voice or video call button. There you can communicate orally on how to best solve the problem you're working on.
Most recently, Google rolled out an integration with Google Talk and Hangouts, replacing Talk's video calling service. The move was seemingly made in an effort to increase adoption of Google's social network, Google+, but the integration delivers some real value. Now you can share documents via the Google Hangout window in Talk.
Automatic friends list updates
I've been using Google Talk since the feature was first introduced, but lately I've found myself using the product more and more, almost unwittingly. On the back-end, Google auto-populates your Google Talk Friends list with people you contact frequently via email. If you do not wish to chat with these new contacts, simply block or hide them from your chat list.
And now, with Google+, you'll notice even more friends auto-populating your chat list. Google+ now automatically allows you to chat with people in mutual Google+ Circles. To disable this feature, visit private settings from your Google+ chat.
iMessage has certainly replaced traditional texts for a large majority of smartphone users, but if you're like me and prefer Android over iPhone, iMessage is unavailable. Rather than wasting my limited text messages, I use the mobile version of Google Talk, which comes preinstalled on Android phones. After setting up your phone with your account information, Google Talk buddies automatically appear on mobile app.
Plus, you can actually send an SMS message from Google Talk inside of Gmail to a mobile device. The service can be enabled via the Chat lab and once in place, it is extremely useful if you need to send a message, but can't get to your mobile device.
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