How to activate and use Google Chat

Real-time collaborative chat, as apps like Slack illustrate, has become a common way to communicate between colleagues and friends, especially since early 2020, when so many of us switched to working from home. In mid-2021, Google apparently took notice and went up against Slack by integrating two of the features of its Workplace business app suite — Chat and Spaces (formerly called Rooms) — into its default Gmail app.

Google Chat allows you to chat with friends and groups of friends on an informal or formal basis. The first can be done only between two people or between several in what Google calls a group conversation. The latter is done via a separate space that Google currently calls a Space.

What is the difference? According to Google, chat is simply a way for two or more people to chat together without any formality. For example, if you wanted to have a quick chat about where you are going to have lunch together, you would start a group chat with your friends. Once the conversation is over, it’s done and will be deleted after five days (if you’re using a personal instead of a Workspace account).

A room, on the other hand, is for more lengthy conversations. Each space has its own name, remains available for people to exit and rejoin, sends notifications and can share files. It’s for work projects, party planning, or any other activity where you want to keep the conversation going for days, weeks, or longer.

If this sounds helpful to you, you’ll need to activate Google Chat for your Gmail account first. At the moment, you have to do this in each case separately in your browser and on your mobile device.

Activate chat on a mobile app

  • Tap the three-line icon in the top left corner. Scroll down and select ‘Settings’.
  • Select your account
  • Scroll down to “General”
  • If you’re using an Android phone, check ‘Show the tabs for chats and spaces’. If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, turn on Show Chat & Spaces tab.

Instead of just Mail and Meet icons, you’ll now find Chat and Spaces icons at the bottom of the screen.

Activate Chat and Spaces in the General section of Settings.

Activate Chat and Spaces in the General section of Settings.

There are now four icons at the bottom of your Gmail app.

There are now four icons at the bottom of your Gmail app.

Activate chat in a browser

  • Go to your Gmail account and go to settings (the gear icon in the top right corner)
  • Select “View all settings”
  • From the top menu, select “Chat & Meet”
  • You have the choice to select “Google Chat”, “Classic Hangouts”, and “Off”. Assuming you want to try Chat, click that.
  • Usually Chat appears on the left side of your Gmail screen, but you can choose to have it appear on the right instead
  • By the way, “Chat and Meet” allows you to hide the Meet section in Gmail if you want
  • Click on “Save Changes”

In your browser, go to Settings and look for the

In your browser, go to Settings and look for the “Chat and Meet” section.

Instead of the Meet and Hangouts boxes that used to be on the left side of your Gmail screen, you now have a Chat box, a Spaces box, and a Meet box. Any contacts you’ve chatted with through Hangouts before will appear in the new chat box; click on their names and a little popup box at the bottom left will show you those past chats. (Note that if you’ve previously blocked someone in Hangouts, that block won’t carry over to Chat.) And notice the button to the right of the search box that lets you choose to be active, away, or undisturbed; you can also type in your own status.

You can set your chat status in a box at the top right.

You can set your chat status in a box at the top right.

Start a chat on the web

  • To start a new Chat, click the plus sign in the corners of the Chat or Spaces boxes. You will be presented with a drop-down menu.
  • If you just want to chat with one person, just type their name in the top field and you’ll be taken to a small pop-up chat box. (You can maximize it if you want.) To chat with more than one person, select “Start Group Chat.” You can then create a list of the people you want to chat with.
  • Using the same menu, you can also start a space (more on that later), browse existing spaces, or search for message requests (in other words, search for previous requests for other people’s chats).

You will now find Chat and Spaces in the left column.

You will now find Chat and Spaces in the left column.

Start a chat on a mobile app

  • Tap the Chat icon and then the little ‘New Chat’ popup in the bottom right corner
  • You can type a person’s name here (below the links you will find a list of your frequent contacts), or you can create a room or browse existing ones.
  • To start a group conversation (in other words, chat with multiple people), type the name of the first person you want to chat with (or choose their name from the drop-down list), then tap the group icon that will appear in the same field you type in, and add any other names.

after you click

After clicking “New Chat”, you can create a chat or a room with one or more people.

You can add photos and other media to your chat.

You can add photos and other media to your chat.

People invited to your chat will receive an email with a link and have the option to join or block the conversation; if they’re in Hangouts or Chat, they’ll get a notification.

Whether you’re using the web or a mobile app, to add a new message, type in the field at the bottom of the screen. A series of icons (where they’re located depends on whether you’re using the mobile or web app) let you add emoji or a photo, start an audio or video meeting (essentially start Google Meet), and schedule an event, under Others. In the mobile app, tapping the plus sign to the left of the bottom field will give you a number of things to add to your message, including a GIF, calendar invite, or Google Drive file; in the web app, most of these are available on the right side of the field.

Once you've expanded your web chat, you can also add some features to it.

Once you’ve expanded your web chat, you can also add some features to it.

Create a space

  • On the web, go to the chat box or spacebar on the left side of Gmail and click the plus sign. In the mobile app, tap the Spaces icon.
  • Select ‘Create space’.

When you create a space, you name it and add attendees.

When you create a space, you name it and add attendees.

  • Create a room name and add the people you want to include. (If they’re not in your contact list, just type their email address.) Click “Create.” You will be taken to the new space.
  • The people who have been invited will receive an email with a link. When they click the link, they will be presented with the new space and given the option to join or block it. (If they’re not already members of Chat, they’ll get Hangouts notifications.)
  • Type in the field at the bottom of the screen to add a new message. Like Chat, a series of icons on the right side of the field (on the web) or the plus sign (on mobile) let you add emoji, upload a file, add a file from Google Drive, start an audio or video meeting (which Google Meet essentially launches), and schedule an event.

A space can contain images, emoji, and tasks, but it's not as temporary as a chat.

A space can contain images, emoji, and tasks, but it’s not as temporary as a chat.

A few notes about rooms: If you created a room with a personal account (as opposed to a business account), anyone in the room can rename it. There are a few other rules regarding the use of spaces that can be found on a Google support page.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said, “You can even have rooms in rooms.” That is not an available function and the rule has been removed. We regret the mistake.

Update December 28, 2021, 1:50 PM ET: This article was originally published on June 21, 2021 and has been updated to reflect Google’s move from the term “Rooms” to “Spaces”, along with a few other minor changes.

Update February 10, 2022, 4:00 PM ET: The introduction to this article has been updated to reflect changing times.

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