Google+ Is A Chatty Cathy

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via lh4.googleusercontent.com


On the left of that image you will see that chat has finally arrived on Google+.  Bringing a major Gmail function over to the burgeoning social network is no small thing if you are the kind of person that always has a tab open for G+ and another at the same time for Gmail. I am this person. There are a few peculiarities though that I will briefly go over.

For the most part the use of G+ chat acts as you remember it from Gmail except that the list of people isn't static.  This put me off at first because I was used to my staid old chat list in Gmail, just sitting there with people blinking in and out of availability but never MOVING.  With G+ chat it is all over the place. I watched as people appeared and then disappeared to and from existence on a whim. Now I'm pretty sure that the idea here is to paint a sense of activity on G+ that Facebook often lacks but this gets really old fast. Just as you attempt to click someone poof! They are gone. I'm sure a little tweaking of the algorithm is coming so people stay out of the list unless they are connected a little longer. These are early days so see how it works for you.

One thing I just didn't like is that now your Gmail contacts are merged with you G+ contacts. This causes a problem for me as now the side of my gmail window is filled with people I have friended on G+.  This is fine in G+ because of all the open space on the sides of the UI design but Gmail was written during the salad days of search so that space is not plentiful even after I updated the Gmail theme to the new G+ aesthetic. Shoehorned is the word I would use.

One of the tenants of G+ is that practically everything you see is something you can hover over and get more info about. Add people to Circles, get a quick profile peek, etc. This doesn't change when hovering over a name in the chat list except that the floating boxes seem to hang for some time even when you cursor has moved on to brighter pastures. Again this can be chalked up to an early days bug in the algorithm. 

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via lh4.googleusercontent.com

Settings in G+ chat are virtually nonexistent in the current state and I wish Google would have gone to bat on this. I can think of several features I would have liked to see such as granular availability controls, iChat style design, or document and image collaboration but all we get is the same bare bones chat boxes you have been cursing in Gmail for ages. Another disheartening thing you can see there is that Flash still plays a role in the design of this system. Given the new car smell that G+ still has and Google's push for HTML 5 everywhere, it's curious why they are still betrothed to Flash in a significant way. My guess is that this is the trade off for being one hundred percent under-the-hood compatible with Gmail.

All in all Google+ chat does what is advertised but obviously your milage may vary. Being Google they will change it 4 times before the the algorithm gets something it likes. I find it extremely useful in practice and maybe, finally, I can relegate that persistent Gmail tab to my iPhone's mail program and leave chat to the beast that is Google+.