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Tech how-to: Tips and tricks to get more out of Google Chat

During the pandemic, a number of video chat programs have skyrocketed in popularity. Zoom is the most obvious one, but competitors like Microsoft Teams and Google Meet aren’t too far behind.

Each video chat platform has its own benefits and drawbacks. Some are better for work while others are better for day-to-day chatting. Tap or click here to see how each of these services stacks up against one another.

Now that Google Meet and G Suite are more popular than ever, Google is taking the opportunity to kill one of its long-surviving services: Google Hangouts. If you’re still using Hangouts, here’s what you can expect to happen as Google transitions your account to one of its newer services.

Google Hangouts gets the ax

Google announced in a new blog post that it would be ditching Google Hangouts in favor of Google Chat, a feature only G Suite customers are able to use.

Existing Hangouts users don’t have to worry, though. Rather than force them to buy into G Suite, Google is making Chat a free service in Gmail — as well as a standalone app that anyone can use.

The new version of Google Chat is set to arrive in the first half of 2021, and will include many of the same features Hangouts has now like direct messaging, group chats, emoji reactions and suggested replies.

Google hasn’t detailed how the transition to Google Chat will work for current Hangouts users with free accounts. But based on what we know about its planned upgrade phases, we have a few ideas.

Tap or click here to see why you should switch to the free Google Meet.

I have a Hangouts account. What should I do?

Google claims that the migration to the new Chat app will be gradual rather than sudden — so don’t worry about losing access all of the sudden. Google says there will be a period where both apps are live and accounts work on both, so once all users have been ported to Chat, Hangouts will finally be closed for good.

Judging by a timeline posted by Google that details the migration, we’d say Hangouts should be gone by late 2021. Google Workspace customers will be migrated to a Chat Preferred account unless admins opt-out of the change. By late 2021, admins won’t have this option. Thankfully, Workspace users will get a four week’s notice that changes are coming.

So for now, continue to use your account as you are. Once Google is ready to make the switch, you’ll know. Best of all, you shouldn’t be losing any of your personal data or contacts in the process — since they’ll all be migrating, too.

And once you’re on Google Chat, you’ll have access to a number of handy tricks you can use to be more productive. Here are some of our favorites you can try:

  • Use the Off The Record button (the icon looks like a clock) to turn off the chat’s history. When it’s blue, your chats will disappear after 24 hours.
  • Use Rooms and Conversations to separate different topics and group chats. With your family, you can have different Conversations about your favorite sports teams or talk about what movies you’re watching. For work, you can use Rooms for projects, teams or specific tasks.
  • You can also upgrade your Rooms with bots, which can have many different functions. You can invite a bot by typing the “@” sign and then its name. Some examples would be typing @Meet to get a meeting link posted to the chat, or @Polly to start a poll.
  • You can pin chats to keep at the top of your list. To do this, click the three-dot icon next to any chat and click Pin.
  • You can quickly type emoji by pressing the colon key, a keyword (like “smiling face”), and then picking an item from the list that appears by pressing tab.
  • You can edit messages you’ve already typed. To do this, hover over any message you’ve sent and click the Pencil icon. Press Enter to save.
  • Create Bold text by enclosing it in asterisks *
  • Italicize text by enclosing it in underscores _
  • Strikethrough text by enclosing it in tildes ~

Bonus: If you’re still on Hangouts, try out these fun Easter eggs

Google loves to throw hidden surprises into its software, and Hangouts is no exception. If you’re on Google Hangouts, try out these fun keyboard commands that animate your screen with animations, backgrounds and more.

  1. Shy Dinosaur: Type /shydinosaur and a cute little friend will pop up near your chat window. Type it again to dismiss him
  2. The Konami Code background: Old-school gamers will know this one. Type Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A with your arrow keys and press Enter. You’ll get a special background for all your chats.
  3. Pony Stream: Type /ponies in a Hangouts chat and you’ll see a cute galloping animation at the bottom of your screen. Type /ponystream if you want a whole herd.
  4. Angry Mob with Pitchforks: The next time someone makes you mad in Hangouts, type /pitchforks to whip up an angry mob of your very own.
  5. Old School Emojis: Before emoji existed, Japanese forums used text-based emote called Kaomoji. These emotes are highly expressive, and Google preserved several popular ones with the commands /success, /happy, /shame, /puppyparty, /facepalm, /shruggie, /dealwithit, /lit, /flowerbeam, /wizard and /tableflip. Try them out and see for yourself. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
  6. Even more backgrounds: If you’d prefer to alternate backgrounds, type /bikeshed until you find one you like. There are plenty of colors to choose from.
  7. Corgis: We won’t spoil this one for you. Just type /corgis and watch the bottom of your screen. You’ll like it even more if you’re a dog lover.
  8. Rolling a Dice: Why flip a coin when you can roll a dice? Just type /roll and Hangouts will roll you a number between one and six. And for the Dungeons and Dragons fans out there, you can even ask Hangouts to roll multisided dice by typing /roll1d20. Critical hit!
  9. 8Ball: Hangouts comes with a built-in Magic 8 Ball. Just type /8ball to get your prediction.
  10. Format your text: This one is more boring, but it’s also super useful. Just type Ctrl + B for bold text, Ctrl + I for Italic text and Ctrl + U for underlined text. These are the same commands you’ll find in Microsoft Word, and they can add a little more personality to your speech.

These features aren’t available in G Suite just yet, but we’re hoping they make their way to the new Google Chat app once the migration is finished. They have to make it fun somehow!

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