Google Hangouts doesn’t deserve to be called a ‘Classic’

Aka how to do absolutely nothing with your unfair advantage

Google Hangouts doesn’t deserve to be called a ‘Classic’

Remember when Google made a unified messaging app called Hangouts?

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Apparently Google doesn’t.

Hangouts started as a video calling product, and a pioneering one at that. It allowed free, in-browser video calls to multiple people and had a bunch of features that seemed revolutionary at the time. At some point Google even had a live streaming feature that spawned a generation of video podcasts and shows on YouTube. Obama even used it.

People talked about Hangouts then, all the way back in 2014, in the same way that every late night host now talks about Zoom. They had a product that was good, which was, for Google, a Very Bad Thing.

There were still inconsistencies with Google’s messaging strategy, but it was early days . Back then if you wanted to chat in Gmail you used Google Talk. There was a separate Google Talk video calling system, which I don’t know the specifics of. There was no Google Talk app for mobile.

Google Huddle, eventually launched with Google+, was instead pushed. It was an Android chat app with no connection to Talk.

Eventually the big brains at Google realised that starting a chat in Talk, then moving to Huddle and eventually settling on Hangouts was a stupid, stupid thing that just sounds so dumb you want to die, so they combined the apps into one big one that worked everywhere and called it all Hangouts.

But Google seemingly lacks any leadership, and so instead of building upon a unified app eventually the company has in the past few years, once again, let its middle-managers run wild and create a bunch of new random apps that have either shut down or just gained no traction in recent years. These apps are launched in an unfinished state and then updated once or twice a year with features that should’ve been there at launch.

It’s such a Google thing to do too. Just think of YouTube Music vs Google Play Music, Google Tasks vs Google Calendar Reminders vs Google Keep, Google Play Movies vs YouTube Movies. Fun fact: if you buy a movie on YouTube Movies you can only watch it offline in the Google Play Movies & TV app, despite YouTube Premium allowing downloads of regular YouTube videos.

But back to chat.

Google Hangouts was eventually discontinued, but still exists (???), and Google now recommended that people use new business products called Google Hangouts Chat and Google Hangouts Meet.

For consumers Google offered separate apps, one called Google Allo and one called Google Duo. They also had a YouTube chat system, a Google Docs chat system and probably five other chat products with equally shitty apps and a lack of features that were in an app they’d already built years ago.

In Gmail, the existing Hangouts chat feature, that wasn’t Hangouts Chat with an capital letter and only somewhat works with Hangouts Chat, was apparently set to be discontinued. It’s now called Hangouts Classic but still seems to work for business accounts at least.

No Pepsi Max for me, I’ll take Pepsi Classic thanks.

Google Chat is also an RCS standard for text messaging that very few US carriers have so far supported, and which iOS will likely never support, as an open, unencrypted alternative to iMessage.

Google Allo and Duo were mobile apps, and so didn’t have any ties to Gmail or desktop computers. They do now maybe? I can’t be bothered looking it up because nobody has ever tried to Google Duo call me. I think you can do it in Chrome.

Allo was of course killed. There was a web app that worked in a similar way to WhatsApp’s web app, requiring a QR code to be scanned, but it still didn’t integrate at all into Gmail or any other Google service. Duo lives on.

And now we’re back at square one. All it took was a global pandemic for the now infamously scrappy company to decide that Google Hangouts Meet is now a consumer product that they should actually update sometimes. They renamed it to be Google Meet and renamed Google Hangouts Chat to be just Google Chat.

If you start a call from Gmail it’ll start a Hangouts Classic video call, with an entirely different interface to Google Meet. And if you start a Google Meet call from Google Meet you’ll get a Google Hangouts message telling you to open Google Chat to see the full message.

To know just how totally devoid of meaning Google’s messaging strategy you just have to look at their recent reactions to Zoom’s pandemic dominance. The company has made Google Meet and Google Chat available to regular Google accounts, as opposed to being separate G-Suite products. And they only just added a grid-view to Meet, meaning you can now finally see the people you’re talking to without installing a sketchy (but probably fine) Chrome extension.

Google Chat still doesn’t fully work in Gmail. You’ll occasionally get broken messages that tell you to open the full Google Chat website to see the message. Because, of course, Google Chat in Gmail isn’t Google Chat, it’s Hangouts Classic. Google seriously has an entire support article on this:

Chat and classic Hangouts interoperability
If a colleague uses classic Hangouts, you can directly message them from Google Chat. You get the direct message in…

Google is, after all, a small company, so why would they have the resources to add a grid view without being prodded by Zoom and a pandemic? They do, of course, know when to react, and that’s when a competitor with a better product starts to encroach on its monopolistic approach to some underdeveloped product.

At this point I should probably add that this post could surely use an edit or two. But why bother improving it when I can just write the same content again in 6 months and slowly sunset this article before I just rename it to Article Classic.

At the end of the day none of this matters. Thanks to Google’s awful dominance online the company will probably steal every Zoom feature in the next 24–900 months and then abandon Google Meet and Google Chat for another awful thing.

Today the company once again ‘unified’ it’s chat apps into one team:

Google unifies all of its messaging and communication apps into a single team
Android messages, Duo, and the phone app are all now under the leadership of the person in charge of G Suite, Javier…

Let’s see how that goes.