If you’ve ever used the web version of Gmail, you know that there is a tiny box in the corner of your screen that can be used to talk in real-time with your contacts. First introduced nearly a decade ago, Google Talk has become an integral part of the Gmail experience … and was unceremoniously dropped a couple months ago. But fear not, chat fans! Google has replaced Google Talk with Google Hangouts, which is the chat service it previously introduced as part of its Google+ social networking service.
But what does this mean for the casual Google Talk user? Will they be able to talk to all their contacts? Is data transmitted via Google Hangouts still safe? We’re breaking down all the changes for you so you can see what’s different, and decide for yourself whether you want to roll with the changes, or find a new instant messaging client.
Is Google Talk Really Dead?
Unfortunately, yes. Though the program has yet to be officially phased out on the web, Google has said that Google Talk is being pulled, and expects it to completely disappear by the end of 2013. So even though you may still see that friendly chat bar on the side of your Gmail home screen, it will be going away soon, and will be replaced by a Hangouts application instead.
Can I Still Chat With All My Friends?
If all your friends use Google Hangouts, then yes, you can still chat with all your contacts. However, one of the hallmarks of Google Talk was that it integrated third-party chat services like AIM.
Unfortunately, this feature has not carried over to Google Hangouts, and any contacts that you had that did not use the Google service exclusively will not be able to chat with you via Google Hangouts.
Do I Need a Google+ Account to use Hangouts?
Yes. All hangout chat activity is facilitated through Google’s social network. So if you want to continue chatting, you will need a Google+ Account, and all your contacts will need one too. Even if you don’t plan on ever posting on the social network, you will need an account that is tied to your Gmail account in order to chat using Hangouts.
How Will My Online Status Change?
If you accessed Google Talk through Gmail (as most people did), understanding your online status was easy. You were “online” when you logged in, “away” when you were in another browser tab (or were inactive) and “offline” when you logged out or made yourself invisible. For the most part, these status signals are staying the same, except for one small component: the invisibility function. According to The International Business Times, users who used the “invisible” function will no longer be able to hide from annoying online friends and relatives any longer.
What About Security?
Though Google Talk wasn’t well-known for its security, it did give users quite a few options when it came to keeping their data safe. Users could choose enable (or disable) chat logging in their options menu, and install third party encryption clients to make their conversations more secure. Unfortunately, Google Hangouts has gotten rid of much of this functionality.
Third party clients cannot be used to enhance security, and chat logging is enabled in every conversation by default. Though you can opt out of logging, you will need to change the chat logging option every time you start a conversation, as it cannot be disabled by default. And unfortunately, because your chats live on Google+, advertisers are able to create ads based on your online interactions using hangouts, according to Slate.
Should You Use Google Hangouts or Not?
Though the switch to Hangouts is one that many are not looking forward to, if you are already a Google+ user (and have friends that use the service) then the transition probably won’t affect you all that much, and when Google Talk finally bites the dust, it won’t be that much of a big deal to switch over to Hangouts (especially since you probably already use them on Google+).
However, if you don’t have Google+, or if you use Google Talk to chat with contacts across several services, then you might want to think twice about switching services. Though the core chat functionality that you know and love remains in Hangouts, many of the features that made it unique among its peers have been stripped out or downsized in Hangouts. Couple this with the fact that there are some real security concerns with Google Hangouts, and you just may find it prudent to find another instant messaging service, without as many strings attached.
Photo Credit: Josephine Dorado