Over the past 15 years, Google has introduced more than a dozen messaging services covering text, voice, and video calls. This week, the company’s efforts culminated in the general availability of Google Chat, a combination of Slack / Discord-style rooms with more traditional messaging.
It’s the kind of announcement that could have brought some consistency to the company’s muddled messaging, but – as is Google tradition in this area – there’s a lot of confusion to be made.
On the one hand, Google Chat is the name fans have affectionately used for Google’s original messaging service, Google Talk, for many years. Is it a coincidence that comes full circle in Google’s messaging ouroboros, or is it meant to trick GChat fans into actually using the company’s latest attempt?
On the other hand, Google Chat has its own messaging rooms which were previously called Rooms, but which will soon ‘evolve’ into something called Spaces, even though Google introduced another messaging app called Spaces in 2016.
Here’s a breakdown of Google’s top email offerings over the years, with currently active services in bold:
Messaging services: Google Talk, Google Plus Huddle, Google Hangouts, Google Allo, Google chat, as well as countless chat features built into other Google products that we won’t mention here
SMS / RCS services: Google Voice, Android Messages app with RCS chat integration
Video conferencing services: Google Talk, Google Voice, Google Plus Hangouts, Google Duo, Google Meet
Collaboration software: Google Wave, Google Plus circles, Google Documents Chat, Google chat
Within this jumble of product names lie two basic issues: Google’s apparent love for launching new services and its inability to combine products under one roof.
Competitors like WhatsApp are demonstrating what the opposite approach could be: a chat service tied to a user’s phone number that enables video and voice, all from a single app. Or there’s Apple’s iPhone approach, which ties email addresses and phone numbers to two services: iMessage for text and FaceTime for audio and video.
However, Google continues to fall into the same cycle, a cycle that has been repeated over the years. It will create new services, integrate them into more areas of its product line, then try to clean up the slate, launch new services that will (eventually) replace the old set, and restart the cycle.
Here are the four eras of Google messaging to date:
April 1, 2004: Gmail is launching in beta. Arguably Google’s first communications product, Gmail promised a new kind of email service where users wouldn’t have to delete emails and could search old threads with the same power as the main site. from Google. Originally supposed to be an April Fool’s joke.
August 2005: Launch of Google Talk, kicking off Google’s foray into messaging services. In addition to instant messaging, Talk also offered voice calls through its desktop client. Talk would be integrated into Gmail in 2006 as a sort of âAOL Instant Messengerâ to Gmail’s âAOLâ messaging service. Found in Gmail’s “Chat” window, users end up calling it GChat.
November 2007: Google Talk supports group chats, allowing users to send messages to multiple contacts in real time.
October 2008: Google is launching Android for smartphones, with support for both Google Talk and regular texting.
November 2008: Google Talk is added to Gmail with voice and video chat.
March 2009: Launch of Google Voice. A rebranding of an existing company called GrandCentral that Google bought in 2007, Google Voice allows users to sign up for a single phone number that can send and receive text messages and calls on PCs and phones. phones. Google Voice and Google Talk remain separate services.
May 2009: Google Wave is announced at Google I / O. Billed as a grand vision for the future of internet communication, Wave reinvented email and chat as a series of grouped discussion threads with different users until Google stopped development a year later. Although broadly a flop, Wave is now seen as a precursor to team messaging apps like Slack.
February 2010: Google launches Google Buzz. It is primarily a microblogging service like Twitter that resides in Gmail, but it also offers private messages that you can send to small groups. It was discontinued in 2011 to make way for Google+.
April 2010: Google adds chat to Google Docs. The new chat feature is designed to allow document editors to communicate with each other while editing a document, but it is separate from other Google chat services.
August 2010: Google Voice is integrated with Gmail, allowing Gmail users to call normal phone numbers directly from Gmail as an extension of Google Talk’s voice calling feature.
April 2011: Google is adding live video chat to Android, bringing Google Talk’s voice and internet calling to mobile.
The Google+ / Hangouts era (2011-2016)
June 2011: Launch of Google+. Apparently, Google’s approach to Facebook’s dominance in social media, it also introduces two messaging services: Huddle group text messaging for phones and Hangouts for group video.
This is the first part of Google’s messaging cycle: the introduction of new services, although it will take Google two years to finalize the branding and strategy here.
July 2012 : Google is launching Hangouts in Gmail, calling it a more âmodernâ version of the existing video calling functionality that Gmail had offered through Google Talk. Already, we’re starting to see the second part of the cycle, as Google begins to integrate Hangouts into its other services.
May 2013 : Google+ Hangouts is relaunched as Google’s new global messaging platform. It attempts to merge other Google messaging and video chat apps into a single unified service, replacing Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and the old Google+ Hangouts video chat service.
Notably, Hangouts doesn’t include SMS integration at launch.
September 2014: Google Voice is integrated with Hangouts, continuing Google’s efforts for a cohesive messaging system and providing some support for texting.
April 2015: Google Fi is launching under the name Project Fi. Google’s phone plan also integrates with Hangouts, but causes issues with Google Voice, since the two services exist side by side.
June 2016: Google Talk for Android and Gmail (still not officially named GChat or Google Chat, despite what most people call it) are discontinued, marking the end of Google’s original email service.
The Google Allo era (2016-2019)
May 2016: Google is restarting its cycle at Google I / O 2016, announcing both Allo, a new text messaging app, and Duo, a new video chat app. The two are separated from Hangouts, again blurring the lines.
March 2017: Google announces that Hangouts is rebranded as Hangouts Chat, with a new focus on business use. Google is also launching Hangouts Meet, a business-friendly video conferencing app that would later become Google’s answer to Zoom. Allo and Duo are set to replace Hangouts as new consumer options for messaging and video chat.
June 2017: GChat is finally really stopped. Google is also removing support for SMS from Hangouts to better position it as a competitor to Slack.
April 2018: Google is âsuspending investmentâ in Allo, focusing instead on RCS, a new standard to replace SMS. Confusingly, Google uses the term “chat services” to refer to the activation of RCS on Android, although it is not related to Google Talk (commonly known as GChat) and Hangouts Chat / Google Chat.
December 2018: Google admits it is shutting down Allo.
May 2019: Google is actually shutting down Allo.
The Modern Era: Back to Hangouts – Sort of (2020 to Present)
With Google’s RCS-focused mobile messaging, the company is returning to Hangouts as an old and new communications web service. But in a twist, the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing business communication tools like Slack and Zoom to the fore – not just for businesses, but for people’s daily lives to use for socializing, school, etc.
March 2020: Hangouts Meet is available on personal Google Accounts as a new group video conferencing option.
April 2020: Hangouts Chat (which gradually evolved into a Slack / Discord-style app over the previous era) is renamed to Google Chat – marking the return of the Google Chat name in a way, although the slow rollout could mean you’ve got still Hangouts hidden in your Gmail browser window.
April 2020: Hangouts Meet is renamed Google Meet.
June 2021: Google launches Google Chat to all customers and announces that âRoomsâ will become âSpacesâ. Spaces work similarly to a Slack or Discord room, providing a central location for larger group chats compared to regular group chats – which still exist in Chat as well.
It’s been a long road to get here, but with the launch of Workspace and Google Chat for non-business users, it’s almost possible to see Google’s strategy. Gmail exists for e-mail; Chat is the GChat / Hangouts style messaging system for real-time chats and group chats; Spaces is the Slack / Discord style area for more persistent and larger rooms based on a particular topic or conversation; and there’s Meet for video chats.
Mobile messaging is more complicated, however, with Google having spent years trying to make its own services work alongside carrier technologies like SMS and RCS – and there’s no end in sight. Working with cellular carrier technology to sue Apple and WhatsApp isn’t a bad idea, but it’s unclear whether Google can actually catch up.
Even though RCS could be a serious competitor to replace texting, it doesn’t connect to Google’s web chat at all – though, confusingly, Google also calls RCS âchatâ services. And on the video front, it’s unclear why Google Duo still exists after Hangouts Meet’s larger release since both do largely the same things.
If anything is clear in 2021, it’s that the future of Google’s messaging will likely remain in the dark for some time.