Help me understand the new Google Hangouts service.
May 16, 2013 9:21 AM   Subscribe

For a unified messaging service, I am a little confused.

So I've downloaded the new iOS Google Hangouts app. Upon connecting to my google account, it shows a list of contacts, some of whom are in Google+ circles (though I never use Google+), but some of whom assuredly do not have any kind of google/gmail account whatsoever (ie my parents). What happens if I send a message through Google Hangouts to them? I sent a message through it to someone with a gmail account but who has not installed hangouts with the question "did you get this as a chat or as an email?". I've yet to receive a response suggesting to me they might only get it when they turn on gchat/gtalk through gmail. But there's no way of knowing this.

There is also no indication in the Hangouts app as to who is actually online or capable of receiving a message, yet when I turn on the hangouts plugin for chrome, it lists who is currently online just as Gchat/gtalk used to.

In sum, how am I supposed to use this app? Is there a setting within the app that will show me only people who have google accounts so I can actually be sure my message will get to them?
posted by modernnomad to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I just tested this. It sends emails to the offline recipient, with no subject, and it doesn't attempt to aggregate several messages sent within close proximity.

So, if you type in sentences and hit "send" like most people talking through IM does, you just sent 5 emails.

Uh, thats not optimal. WTH google?
posted by fontophilic at 10:12 AM on May 16, 2013

Google Hangouts is meant to be a "unified" messaging service, in the sense that IMs, pictures, video chats, etc. all happen within the same app, both for sending and receiving. So if you get sent a picture, you can view the same picture on your PC, phone, tablet, etc. On Android, they will eventually integrate SMS as well, so you'll be able to seamlessly change devices without losing your conversation threads.

Their purpose is for you to use their service to communicate with the list of contacts in your Google account, using some intelligence on the backend to determine where and how to deliver your message. Sally's online? Pop open a chat window. On the go? Ping her mobile. Doesn't have an Android device? Send an SMS instead of mobile chat. No phone number listed? Send an email. etc, etc.

The experience in iOS will certainly not be optimal. Partially because Apple would never allow the full integration needed to make it work properly (that's what iMessages does), but also because if you are truly embedded in the Google ecosystem, you really should be on Android anyway.
posted by trivia genius at 10:57 AM on May 16, 2013

Coming at this from the other side, this is definitely the best gchat client for iOS. There definitely needs to be some more UI polish though so that it's clearer who's actually online and who's going to get an e-mail.
posted by Oktober at 11:07 AM on May 16, 2013

Response by poster: Trivia genius, even if I was on Android, it appears as though the list of "contacts" in Google Hangouts would comprise not only on other contacts with google accounts or who have activated Hangouts, but also all contacts in the address book of my device, or any contacts I had previously emailed through gmail - and still have no indicators as to online presence or as fontophilic suggests, whether they were capable of receiving IMs through hangouts or only emails. Surely if they were only capable of receiving emails I would want to send them a single email, rather than 5 emails because I thought I was using an IM client. At the very least, one would expect the IM program to alert you to the fact that the user you are about to send cannot receive IM's through this particular app.

It seems so strange that I am am convinced I am missing something.
posted by modernnomad at 12:47 PM on May 16, 2013

Yes, this is the case. They don't do a good job of showing who's online, or who's connected to hangouts. But this is by design.

If you go "all in" on a unified messaging service, it essentially means that you don't really care how the message is delivered on the other end. This is very similar to what Facebook did with their messaging, blurring the lines between their internal IM and their messages/email. You can send the message now and the other person will get it - maybe now if they are online, maybe later if they aren't.

I think the ultimate goal is to move all personal conversations (including group conversations) to this type of service, assuming they can get enough people to embrace the idea. Traditional email, while currently part of the delivery service on the backend, would ideally phase out as more people join and use Hangouts. Instead of sending an IM or SMS along the lines of "hey did you get my email about our family vacation?" It would just be all part of the same hangout chat. The beauty is that it's not just for online synchronous chatting, but also allows you to send messages when the other party is offline to initiate the conversation asynchronously.

Of course, your comment is spot-on about the current shortcomings of the service. If someone doesn't have a Google account where they can receive hangout/chat messages, the system falls back to the other communication methods in your contact card for that person, which probably means email. The system should be smart enough to either tell you that your current message (as you type it) will be delivered by email (and encourage you to encourage them to sign on for Hangouts) or aggregate messages sent within a set period of time and send as one email instead.

Then again, this could also be by design, as in "frustrate the email recipients enough that they start using hangouts as well just to avoid hundreds of one-line emails, and we've just picked up another user!" (not saying this is the motivation, just a possibility). The other (more likely) possibility is that, like many new Google services, this one was released before becoming feature-complete to provide first-mover/early-mover advantage with this type of service, create PR buzz, and perform stability testing on the service as a whole with a limited feature set before adding in additional things. It's also possible there are some issues that don't have only one possible or "best" solution, and rather than implement only one of many, they are waiting to see what the public outcry is, as that may lead them toward a better offering that satisfies the greatest percentage of users.
posted by trivia genius at 1:21 PM on May 16, 2013

Response by poster: Interestingly I've noticed that google has already updated Hangouts to now say " XYZ is not currently on Hangouts. You can still send messages that they will see later." Definitely an improvement, but I still think a contact list of those who ARE on hangouts right now (or at least who have installed it) would be a good addition.
posted by modernnomad at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2013

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