Mobility

Google launches its Slack competitor, Spaces

Ahead of Google I/O, a new collaborative messaging app has been unveiled that aims to compete with the increasingly popular Slack messaging app. Can it keep up?

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Image: Google

As attention turns to Google I/O 2016—the yearly conference for developers in the Google ecosystem—the company has released Google Spaces, a collaborative messaging app that bears more than a passing resemblance to the increasingly popular Slack. Spaces features integration with other Google products, such as Chrome and YouTube, allowing users to share articles and videos without leaving the Spaces app.

What can Spaces do?

Spaces allows users to create groups based on a common task or interest, in much the same way Slack works—users in the group can send messages to each other, while message logs and shared items can easily be searched using Google's search algorithm.

Users can be added to a Space through email, instant message, or social network. Compared to Slack, there is no means yet for external integrations with non-Google services, yet Spaces has no apparent limitation on the number of messages that can be stored.

SEE: Google I/O 2016: What to expect (CNET)

Spaces works in any desktop or mobile web browser, and features a Chrome extension, as well as apps for Android and iOS. Presently, Spaces seems to not be available on Google Apps for Domains users, though support may be forthcoming—some users have reported seeing error messages directing them to enable support for their domain, though the ability to do so is not yet in the dashboard.

Spaces is expected to be used extensively at Google I/O, as the release announcement notes that "We've created a space for each session so that developers can connect with each other and Googlers around topics at I/O, and we've got a few surprises too."

Google and messaging: A long and troubled history

Google Talk—the company's first foray into messaging—was touted as having "interoperability forever," for which the definition of "forever" being just shy of nine years, as Google discontinued XMPP federation for Talk in May 2014.

Google Hangouts, the replacement for Talk, was unveiled as a unified chat platform at Google I/O 2013, combining the message, audio, and video call functions of Google Talk and SMS functions into one app. Puzzlingly, Google started walking back this integration in January, with Hangouts 7.0 directing users to use Google's Messenger app instead.

SEE: Android and iPhone: What are the latest must-have apps? (ZDNet)

Google Wave, a different collaborative messaging platform, was announced at Google I/O 2009. Wave aimed to combine facets of email, instant messaging, and social networking. The rollout of Wave was rather slow—after a year-long beta phase, Google announced the suspension of development in August 2010, with support for Wave drifting away as the service became read-only in January 2012, with existing Waves deleted in April. The source code for Wave was transferred to the Apache Foundation.

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Google+ was released in June 2011, though Google has not found a way to make it easy to love—a Google engineer called it "a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership," in a rant that was mistakenly posted publicly to Google+.

Google's attempted integration of Google+ in YouTube went disastrously, with YouTube cofounder Jawed Karim vociferously questioning the move. One month after Google+ creator Vic Gundotra abruptly left the company, Sergey Brin called the social network "a mistake." Google+ has since been unbundled from YouTube and Gmail, and saw a massive redesign in November 2015 that greatly simplified the scope of the service.

At I/O 2016, Google may finally unveil a new AI-powered messaging platform that combines traditional messaging with the ability to prompt Google bots to perform tasks or look up information. Without a substantive rethinking of how Google approaches messaging, there is a significant potential for the new service to drown in an ocean of competition.

What's your view?

Does your organization use Slack, HipChat, or some other group messaging platform? What do you think of Google Spaces? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware.

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