The story of Google Hangouts has been strange, for sure. I suppose that goes for any Google messaging platform, though, right? There’s a certain rhythm to Google’s messaging products, and it usually involves an exciting launch, a lukewarm reception, and an unceremonious death. Sure, maybe that’s a bit too harsh, but Google’s track record with messaging is bad and we all know it. They’ve axed great platforms many loved (R.I.P. Allo), transitioned others inexplicably (Hangounts -> Hangouts Meet & Chat), and outright put all their hope in others like Android Messages when it seems they shouldn’t have.
After taking over duties for Google Talk years ago, Hangouts became the de facto Google messaging platform. It was a standalone service, baked into Gmail, and even took on SMS for some users. With the addition of video calls as well, Hangouts was Google’s one-stop-shop for messaging and most of us were pretty happy with it. While I’m still not sure about the reasoning to abandon it for Allo and Duo a few years ago, I’m sure the rise of iMessage and WhatsApp had plenty to do with the decision. In the wake of those two new messaging apps from Google, Hangouts was left in a weird limbo. It received little attention, but wasn’t killed off, either.
Instead, Google decided to transition Hangouts over to the G Suite side of the operation, giving us an odd split of Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat. Hangouts Chat hasn’t really ever done much, basically staying true to the standard IM format while adding some Slack-like options such as rooms and bots. We tried using it internally, but with it only being suited for G Suite users, we found other options much more user-friendly in the long run. I recently checked in on Hangouts Chat and it seems little has changed there.
Hangouts Meet, however, has been extremely good and highly useful. With the ability to create meetings in a swift manner and share them to anyone via URL, Hangouts Meet became the go-to method of video calls for us. And it wasn’t just us. Tons of clients and reps we’ve needed to speak with over the years have offered up Hangouts Meet links for conversation, almost becoming the expectation when a quick video chat was scheduled. It’s been fantastic, honestly, and in the midst of our current pandemic, it is still the option I’d choose over any other.
So, where does that leave the old, consumer-facing Hangouts? It is still around and rumored to be fully killed off by June of 2020, but it has lingered for so long at this point that I was beginning to wonder if it wouldn’t have some sort of resurgence. Why would Google keep it around for so long? My guess is Hangouts – much like Google Talk it replaced – is embedded in quite a few things across Google’s ecosystem. It’s a quick chat in Gmail, but is also seems to be powering the back end of Google’s help desk chats and who knows what else. If that is the case, that makes completely killing it off much more complicated. Either way, Hangouts is clearly on it’s way to the dreaded Google Graveyard and if you needed proof of it, the latest change to Hangouts Meet and Chat should serve as that proof.
Late last week, Google made it official: Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet are now simply Google Meet and Google Chat. This move should surprise few as the lingering Hangouts naming only confused things. These two services share little in common to the consumer version of Hangouts other than the name, so the move makes things cleaner and more concise. After all, most of us were already calling it Google Meet anyway. Using the term hangout in a business setting never felt right, anyway. Overall, this is a good move for Google.
But there’s still Hangouts to talk about. As of right now, Hangouts still works, still exists, and still allows for the basics of IM and video chats. You can still do Hangouts calls on the web and messaging as well, and the service still supports multiple callers on the line. So, I guess I’m sitting here wondering why this is still a thing in light of Duo’s success and Google saying it was all-in on RCS Chat as it’s messaging platform. (Whoopsie. Google once again has two products that are quite different with the same name.)
I’ll be honest, I don’t really know. Sometimes I wonder if Google knows. It feels like the removal of the Hangouts name on the two services millions of people still use is a sign that Hangouts is finally on death’s doorstep. It has managed to hang around longer than most abandoned Google messaging services, but this move really feels like finality. We’re rapidly approaching June of 2020, so it will be interesting to see if Google follows through or simply extends the timeline once again. We’ll have to wait and see, but if I were still using Hangouts at this point, I’d definitely be looking elsewhere for my messaging platform.