I’m a cloud computing fanatic. Web 2.0 may just be a buzz word, but the growing number of ways we can connect over the digital airways is increasing by the day. Intertwined and interconnected, our blogs, social media, news sites, and so on, all breathe the same air and share the same massive cluster of server space. As a blogger in this opportunistic information age we must harness the right tools to communicate with fellow cloud cadets and utilize every opportunity allowed. The telephone used to be the standard, then came email. Now we have available to us a vast number of tools to tap on the shoulders of our fellow bloggers.
Over the months I have used many of these tools for both general communication as well as in depth collaboration. Out of all these tools I have found NONE to match the flexibility and all around effectiveness of Google Chat. Being the little brother of Google Talk, Google Chat (or Gchat for short) has really grown up over the last couple years and now offers a mature range of communication capabilities.
The difference between Google Talk and Google Chat:
Google Talk is Google’s standalone IM software that can be downloaded and installed on your computer. Very similar to AIM or Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk can sit in a nice, neat little window in a LCD location of your choosing. Google Chat, however, is the integrated chat feature in Gmail. Though they share many of the same feature and uses, Google Talk is more ‘well endowed’ when it comes to capability. But, as you’ll see in a minute, Gchat is ever expanding and much the capable little ‘chat box’.
7 Google Chat Features You Might Not Know About
1: Transcript. One very simple, yet amazingly useful feature of Gchat is the fact that each conversation is saved in a transcript form email. This means you not only have access to all the words shared, but you can treat them like those in an email. They can be searched for, forwarded, labeled, etc… And they all reside in the ‘Chats’ section, just two links down from your Inbox.
I didn’t think much of this feature until I started using Gchat on a regular basis. One day I had a great conversation with a fellow blogger and had discussed ideas for future blogging projects. Weeks later I wanted to reference a few sentences that had passed back and forth. So I just typed in a few key words in the Gmail search field and BINGO! There was the entire conversation, ready for reference.
2: Go off the record. If, for any reason, you don’t want your conversation recorded, there’s a nifty feature of Gchat that handles this beautifully. Just click on the ‘Video & more’ button on the bottom right of your Gchat window and then click ‘Go off the record’. It’s as easy as that! Just keep in mind that, if not changed back, your future ‘conversations’ with that particular Gmail user will always be ‘off the record’.
3: Pop-out. In that same menu from the ‘Video & more’ button you can click ‘Pop-out’. This will un-integrate or unstick the Gchat window from your gmail page and allow you to move it where ever you prefer. This is great for so many reasons! You may want to keep ‘talking’, but move away from your Gmail page to a different location on your computer or in your browser. I love to pop my Gchat window over to my second monitor and fully enjoy the freedom of ‘chatting’ and working/surfing at the same time. It’s Googleiscious! :-)
4: You can have multiple ‘conversations’ at the same time. A few weeks ago I was having a ‘back and forth’ with a friend when I received a Gchat message from a fellow blogger who I’d been waiting to hear from. My knee jerk reaction was to say goodbye to the friend so I could talk to the blogger. But I decided to see what a double conversation felt like in the land of Gmail. Within a few seconds I realized that it was not only possible to talk to two ‘chatters’ at the same time, but actually quite efficient!
If you IM much you know there’s that little bit of downtime between ‘pings’. With two people to talk to you can get into a natural rhythm which fills all those time voids and allows for maximum use of conversation time.
5: Group chat. Once again, located in the pop-up menu of ‘Video & more’, you can select ‘Group chat’ to connect with more than one ‘chatter’ and create a three-way conversation (or more). You just initiate the chat with one of the users and then click on ‘Group chat’ to start bringing others into the conversation. I’ve found this to be an amazing way to collaborate and just chat away with groups of friends, bloggers and colleagues.
6: You can chat with AIM and iChat users. For a while I didn’t realize that a blogging friend of mine whom I chat with regularly, was using his iChat to connect with me on Gchat. It all felt the same on my end as the connection was seamless. And if you have an AIM account you can log directly into it and chat with other AIMers, all through your Gmail account.
7: Video/Audio Gchat. Back in November Google added an exciting feature to Gchat. Now you can see and hear those you are in conversation with, which can be a wonderful change from the tedious typing when your conversations become more involved.
A few months ago Leo of zenhabits and I were ‘chatting’ about a blogging project. Very quickly I realized that this ‘typing conversation’ wasn’t going to be very efficient while trying to answer some of the questions we were presenting each other. So I asked if we could go to video. Little did I know that all this could be done while in Gmail. So, being an uneducated Gchatter, I closed Firefox and opened iChat to prepare for the new conversation. But Leo, knowing more than I about these nifty new features, sent me a link to the necessary plugin to enable this feature. (You can find it HERE.) After I downloaded and installed it and then restarted my browser, we were able to dive right back into our discussion, but now with the convenience of full audio and video.
A few more tidbits on this new feature:
You have the choice to go with just audio or both audio and video. This is nice because there are certainly times when you’d rather have a phone-esque conversation as apposed to having to see and be seen. Sometimes I even find the video part to be distracting when I’m discussing ‘thinking’ matters such as business collaboration. Also, depending on your Internet speeds, the audio may be ‘cleaner’ when not coupled with the video.
And don’t forget that you don’t have to stick to the tiny screen on the bottom right. You can either click ‘Pop-out’ (as mentioned in #3 above) and not only become mobile, but grow in size by about 50%. Then, if you REALLY need to see every hair on their head, you can go FULL SCREEN. The main downside to this is that it becomes a little grainy, but only noticeable if you are right up to the screen.
Finally, I wanted to point out the quality of Gchat Audio/Video. I’ve spent a lot of time on iChat video with Sean Platt of Writer Dad, while working on some blogging projects and we both agree that the Gchat offering is noticeably ‘cleaner’. On iChat I often heard an echo of my voice while speaking to Sean, but since we’ve been using Gchat it has been crystal clear.
Final thoughts on Google Chat:
Just like any other form of communication, becoming proficient with this amazing tool is the key to getting the most out of it. When we seek connection with fellow bloggers we want the topic, not the form of communication, to maintain most of our focus. The more Gchat becomes and extension of our tongue, the greater the efficiency and effectiveness of our words. So if you haven’t already, be sure to dig into all that Google has to offer when it comes to moving information. You may have tapped on the face of Gchat before, but until each feature is under your belt you will only benefit by the smallest degree.
Eric Hamm is a blogger and WordPress designer/consultant. You can find him at his 2 main blogs, Motivate Thyself and Blogopolis Blueprint or utilize his affordable web design services at FrugalSiteDesign.com.