In my last Geeks to Peeps article, I started digging into the wonder that is Gmail, looking at the archiving and labels functions and how they help you organize and reference your email. This article continues the Gmail love, focusing on the built-in Chat functionality and how it brings multiple communication methods into your Gmail account.
We live in a world where chat is as much a part of our online life as email is. It only makes sense, then, that Google has added their own chat application into Gmail as well as a standalone client. The official application is Google Talk and can be downloaded here. The application also serves as a notifier when you receive new email, so you don’t have to keep your web browser open all of the time. My focus for this article, however, is on the embedded chat function in Gmail.
When you log into Gmail, you will see the chat window on the left side of your screen.
You will notice a couple icons which point to very important functions that set Gmail chat apart from other instant messaging systems. The first icon is the green video camera next to my name. This indicates that my account has access to a web camera and, as a result, can do video chat. While other IM programs like AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo Messenger can also do video chat, you do have to install those applications on your PC to access that functionality. While you do need to install a plug-in on your PC to take advantage of Gmail’s video chat, it’s a far cry from an application and installs almost immediately.
What’s more important, however, is the “Call Phones” option you see below my name. That function does exactly what it says: You can call any phone, whether it be landline, cell phone, or another Gmail user, from your web browser. I used that function earlier tonight to call a client who had a technical issue and needed my support. What’s more amazing is that the call was completely free. Calls will remain free until at least the end of 2010 and possibly beyond, which means that, if you have a microphone connected to or installed in your PC and a set of speakers or headphones, your computer just became a fully functional phone. If you’re using a netbook or laptop, that phone goes wherever you go. The call quality is just as good as, if not better than, a landline, and is good enough that I’ve used it to call clients multiple times.
Of course, we are talking about Gmail CHAT, so I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about those chat features. As you can see, I currently do not have any contacts listed in my chat list, but you should also have noticed the “Search, add or invite” box above my name. Type in another Gmail account or, if a contact you’ve added to your account has a Gmail address, type in the contact name and you can chat with them. While Gmail Chat started out as limited to just fellow Gmail users, Google has also added the ability to log into your AIM account and access your AIM Buddy List from within Gmail. Just click on the little arrow across from the chat header and sign into your AIM account.
Next week, we’ll look at how you can mark the importance of certain messages, both within your inbox with the Priority Inbox as well as throughout your account with Starring.