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What is Google chat?

two laptops with characters popping out shaking hands as if initiating a chat meeting

Google Chat is a chat application that enables one to one and group chats. It can be accessed directly from the app itself, or via the gmail sidebar. Both methods are detailed below.

Chat also has a feature called Spaces, which simplifies the process of creating group chats.

You can even schedule chats with friends, family, and coworkers using Google Calendar, another of the apps available from the Drive range.

Why can’t I see Google Chat?

In the world of cloud computing chat apps are nothing new. Google has had this feature under the guise of Hangouts for some time. Chat is their most recent version and looks set to replace Hangouts.

Google has never been famous for avoiding confusion, nor applying changes across the board. So some of you may still see the Hangouts option rather than Chat in their gmail dashboard.

If you’re still seeing Hangouts, you can find out how to turn on Google Chat below.

How much does Google Chat cost?

Chat is one of the core applications available to anyone with a Google account. Hence it is totally free.

All Google Workspace business versions also have Chat in the range of applications provided, with no further costs.

Chats and storage space

Each personal Google account comes with 15GB of storage space, while business accounts start with 30GB for the basic. Chats, although only a minimal amount, do take up some of this storage and is something to be aware of if you want to avoid purchasing extra storage.

What is the best way to practice using Google Chat?

Obviously practice makes perfect, but surprisingly, you can learn the ins and outs by yourself.

If you’re an administrator of a business account,you may be responsible for teaching others how to use Chat. Being familiar with it, before you begin teaching, will help smooth the process. Having multiple Google accounts allows for this.

We can have as many Google accounts as we like. It's also possible to have them all open at once, instead of signing in and out of each one every time we want to switch accounts.

The guide on creating multiple Google accounts explains how all this is done.

How to turn on and use Google Chat in gmail

Sending and awaiting responses via email is a time consuming event. Luckily, with gmail, we can turn our email conversation into instant, realtime chats. But as Google Chat is currently in the rollout process, we may need to activate it in the gmail interface.

How to switch from Hangouts to Chat

Open your gmail app and look down towards the bottom of the left sidebar. You’ll notice the Hangouts. Beneath this you’ll see a list of your previous hangouts. However: we’re more concerned with Chat, which provides more functionality.

If you don’t see the sidebar on the left, click on the burger icon in the top left to open it.

The burger icon for opening and closing the gmail sidebar

If you haven’t already updated to Chat, in the side panel you’ll see the Hangouts heading. You may, or may not, also see the Google Meet heading.

//img hangouts-heading
Google hangouts heading in gmail sidebar

Don’t worry if you don’t yet see it. While we won’t be needing it for this guide, we will be making the Meet functionality visible for future guides.

Gmail gear icon and how to access all settings

Click on the gear icon in the top right of your Gmail homepage. Then See all settings. This will open the settings toolbar. Select the heading titled Chat and Meet.

Set the Chat and Meet options as shown below. You can also set the chat window position, but that is a personal preference. Once done click Save changes.

Gmail settings for chat and meet

Now in the sidebar you’ll see the Chat and Spaces headings. If you previously had any Hangouts, they’ll now appear under the Chats heading.

Chat and Spaces areas in the gmail sidebar

In case you’re wondering what Spaces are: think of a space as a chat room. Unlike real life, you can be present in as many rooms as you like.

Now we have the Chat feature enabled we can begin chatting. If you’re practicing alone you may want to ensure you have one more Google account, while if you want to take it to the limit and learn about Spaces’ you’ll need a minimum of three accounts in total.

Initiating a Google Chat in gmail

The only, albeit mildly, confusing part about starting a chat is the number of options. So let’s go through them one at a time. If you want to play along, now would be a good time to open your other Google account(s).

We have two routes to virtually the same end. One from the Chat app and the other from our gmail. I’m going to cover both routes. Beginning with Gmail.

Begin a Chat from the gmail interface

Clicking on the plus sign to the right of the Chat heading will reveal the different ways we can initiate a chat.

Popout that appears when starting a new Google chat

Starting a one to one Chat

If it's a one to one chat, simply add the person’s email address to the input field at the top of the options list. If we have a Space created, we can also use this method to open a multi chat.

Enter the email address of the person you want to chat with and press enter. After which two things will happen.

  1. The Chat dialog box will open
  2. The Chat will appear under the Chat heading in your side panel

At this point the person you wish to chat with will be unaware of what;s happening. However: once you send a message, they will receive the message and a request to accept or decline the chat, as shown in the image below.

Once they accept it, the Chat will then appear in their chats listing. We can open it up and view any new messages, or add our own, at any time in the future.

Gmail chat dialog box that appears when someone is invited to chat

This is something to be aware of when someone is starting a chat with you.

How to hide or delete a conversation

If a chat becomes dormant we can hide it in our chats list, or delete it completely by clicking on the three vertical dots to the right of the char listing, and choosing one of the options.

OPtions to delete or hide chat

How to create a group chat

As you’ll discover shortly, this is not the best way to create group chats, although it is a method you should be aware of, especially if you’re an admin of a company account.

As we did above, open the chat options, only this time click Start group conversation.

Previously: when entering an email address and pressing enter, the chat dialog box opened. This time however it will add the person to the list and await further participants. The chat will be initiated once you click the blue checkmark.

The people you’ve added will then receive an email inviting them to join and open the conversation in their gmail..

Initially, in your gmail,the new conversation will be titled Empty group. Closing and reopening the chat will allow you to see who has accepted the request.

Adding users to a group chat

At the start, you’ll see the option to Add people, but as the chat progresses this will require a lot of scrolling to get back to.

Amongst other things: clicking on the three dot icon at the top of the chat dialog will give you the option to add more participants to the chat, or Turn this chat into a space.

How to leave a group chat

Unlike one to one chats, we don’t delete chats, instead we leave them. This allows other members of the group to continue chatting

Not forgetting we can rejoin the chat later, we have two ways to leave a chat. Either by clicking the three dot icon in the chat itself, or the one to the right of the chat listing in the side panel.

How to rejoin a group chat

Now here’s where a little confusion sets in. The option to rejoin a chat doesn’t lie beneath the chat heading, but below in the Spaces.

When we create a group chat, which is essentially a chat room, Google automatically creates a type of unnamed space with the same members. It is this space which we have to rejoin.

Creating a space the gmail sidebar

Click the plus sign to the right of the Spaces heading and then Browse spaces.

Now time for even more confusion. In the popup modal that appears, the group we created in chat will be listed as an Empty chat. Hover over it and click Preview/.

Problems could arise if we have left several group chats and they’re all named the same. There are two solutions to this Google created fiasco.

At the top of the new modal, next to where it says Empty group, click the dropdown arrow to view the members. If this is the correct group, click the back arrow then Join,

For future reference: a much better option is to turn the chat into a space following the same route as you did to view members. This will allow you to name it and so make it more accessible in future.

Turn a chat into a space dialog box

How to create and use Google spaces

For this part of the guide I’m going to switch to the Chat app itself rather than from gmail.

Accessing and customizing the Chat application

As one of the core features of Drive, Chat is also accessible directly from the applications listing of any Google account. Chats and Spaces created here or in the gmail interface show in both.

Chrome browser with dropdown open

As with all the other Google Drive services, the chat app can be opened directly from the nine dot dropdown icon in the top right of any Chrome browser you’re logged into.

If you’re using another browser, such as Firefox, this icon is not visible, so you’ll need to sign into your Drive. From there you’ll be able to reach all the Drive apps.

Note that when viewed through a large screen device, the chat app takes up the entire screen. The text input field appears at the very bottom of the screen

Chat app settings

Accessible through the gear icon in the top right, the app allows you to set such things as sound and email notifications. You can also toggle between light and dark mode.

Google chat light mode
Google chat dark mode

What are Google spaces?

Spaces are the best way of creating group chats, not least because we can name them and so make them more easily identifiable.

If you’ve been following along, and created a group chat, you’ll probably have two problems

  1. The chat appears under the name of the chat creator
  2. The “Empty group” space that Google automatically creates
  3. Rejoining a chat means having to view the members

It's not unusual for people to initiate two chats, and to include some people in both. Having named group chats, or chat rooms, which is basically what spaces are, is an easier way of identifying and accessing them.

How to create a Google Space

When we click on the + sign to the right of Spaces, we get the offerings as we do when creating chats.

This time, when clicking Create space, we are prompted to name our space. Once named, we can then add people.

Note that if you’re using a business account, you’ll also have the option to allow people outside the organization to join. This is worth mentioning because anyone invited to join can also invite others.

When the people who have been added to the space click on Browse spaces, they’ll see the named space . They’ll also receive an invitation email. Both will feature the option to join.

Dialog box that opens when browsing spaces. Showing a named space and an unnamed space

After anyone joins they’ll see the named space under Spaces in the chat app and gmail interfaces.

Spaces listings in gmail side panel

How to leave a Google Space

Hover over the space in the side panel and click on the three vertical dots that appear. You’ll then be presented with a warning prompt, also notifying you that you can rejoin.

How to rejoin a Google Space

Hover over the space in the side panel and click on the three vertical dots that appear, or click Find a space to join. In the next popup, click Browse spaces. Any spaces that you’ve been added to will then be listed.

Click the + sign to the right of the space you're wanting to join or rejoin. The space will then appear under your spaces tab.

Adding files and tasks to a chat or space

The ability to add files or tasks are features that aren't available when accessing chat through gmail. You may have already noticed the three tabs in the chat app

//img space-toolbar
The toolbar at the top of the Chat console

how to add files to a chat

The chat window already provides the opportunity to add files, but as chat messages are added, this will be pushed out of view. However: there are still two routes to adding files.

An empty Google space with optoins to add people and share a file

To the right of the text input field at the bottom is a row of icons. These include options to upload files, add from Drive, or create.

The other method is to click on the Files tab. There you’ll see the option to Add file.

View of the add file console in Google Chat

After clicking the add file option, you’ll be prompted to select a source and then navigate to the exact file

Source options when adding a file to a Google chat

Regardless of how you add a file, files added by anyone in the space will be accessible under the Files tab.

How to add tasks to a Google chat

//img add-space-task
Option to add a Task

Tasks in Google chat are a concept aimed at teams. They can be scheduled to a date and time, and assigned to specific people.

//img test-task
A test task added to Google chat

Other members of the group will receive a notification in their chat window and be able to view all tasks under the Tasks tab. In the image below: Both the task creator and assignee have the same name. Don’t let this confuse you

Notification shown in Chat when a task has been assigned

What to learn next

Google Meet offers another way of communication and is another core application available to personal and business users.