Google Talking Up Gmail With Chat

    February 7, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

New chat features for Gmail should begin rolling out to its users over the next few weeks, as Google tightens the integration between its Talk and Gmail services.

Pulling up the main Gmail page yielded a new surprise. Google has started delivering a set of features to support chat within the Gmail interface.

Chats can be started from inside Gmail with anyone on the user’s contact list or on the Google Talk network. Those chats can be “popped out” of Gmail to run in a separate window.

Google has made a concession to privacy by adding a feature to chat that allows users to go “off the record.” They described that feature on the Chat help page:

Going off the record applies to individual people, and is persistent across chats. That means once you go off the record with a particular person, you will always be off the record with him or her, even if you close the chat window, and the two of you don’t chat again until several months later. You will not need to go off the record each time you chat with the same person, but you will need to make this decision for each person you chat with. We’ve designed this to be a socially-negotiated setting because we want to give users full disclosure and control over whether the person they’re talking to can save their chat.

The Quick Contacts window shows the most frequently mailed people automatically. Their status for chat availability displays as it does in Google Talk, with various icons next to those user names that show if someone is ready to chat or just wants to be left alone.

Users can set custom status messages and add extra information to let others know why they may be unavailable, for example. Gmail Chat lets its users save chats to Gmail for later reading or printing. A Chats folder appears in the list with Inbox, Starred, etc, to keep those conversations.

The new service does not require the user to download the Google Talk client to a PC. Chat works the same way in Gmail that it does in Talk, though Chat cannot launch a voice call as Talk can.

Though Chat is new to Gmail, MSN Spaces lead program manager Mike Torres blogged that Hotmail has had this for a long time:

We started with merging your contact list into a unified list; a project I worked on about three years ago when I first joined MSN. Your Hotmail (or Windows Live Mail) contact list and your MSN Messenger (or Windows Live Messenger) contact list are one and the same – the only difference is that some contacts are “Messenger enabled”. It’s fun to see other service providers start to pick up on this concept, as we’ve always thought this approach made a lot of sense.

With Hotmail, if a user does not have MSN Messenger installed, the chat defaults to MSN Web Messenger instead, Torres noted.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.