Hangouts Chat, Google’s Slack competitor, comes out of beta

Hangouts Chat, Google’s take on modern workplace communication, is now generally available and is becoming a core part of G Suite. Hangouts Chat was first announced at Google Cloud Next 2017, together with Hangouts Meet. While Meet went right into public availability, though, Chat went into an invite-only preview. Now, Google is rolling Chat out to all G Suite users over the course of the next seven days (so if you don’t see it yet, don’t despair).

For all intents and purposes, Hangouts Chat is Google’s take on Slack, Microsoft Teams and similar projects. Since Google first announced this project, Atlassian also joined the fray with the launch of Stride. Like its competitors, Chat is available on iOS, Android and the web.

All of these companies are essentially riffing on the same theme, but all of them put their own spin on it. For Google, that means a strong emphasis on AI. The best example for this is probably the @Meet bot that helps you schedule meetings and the @Drive bot that keeps you abreast of when files are shared with you or when people request access to one of your own documents.

Chat currently supports 28 languages and each room can have up to 8,000 members. What’s maybe just as important, though, is that Google has already built an ecosystem of partners that are integrating with Chat by offering their own bots. They include the likes of Xero, RingCentral, UberConference, Salesforce, Zenefits, Zoom.ai, Jira, Trello, Wrike and Kayak. There’s even a Giphy bot.

Developers can also build their own bots and integrate their own services with Chat.

Deep integrations with Google’s own products are, of course, also part of Chat. These include the ability to start Hangouts Meet video conferences from Chat, built-in file uploads to Drive, Docs collaboration, etc.

Hangouts Chat is launching into an increasingly crowded field. There’s still plenty of space for growth, but a lot of enterprises have already placed their bets. Google’s advantage, of course, is that Chat is part of G Suite and companies that already use Google’s services won’t need to pay extra for it. Google surely also hopes that its machine learning-powered features and deep integrations with popular services will give it a leg up on the competition.

For consumers who just want to use Hangouts on their phones, this launch just adds to the confusion of which Google messaging services to use. Google’s overall positioning has long been clear: Duo and Allo are its consumer video and text chat apps and Hangouts Meet and Chat are their equivalents on the business side. But Allo never caught on and Hangouts happily lives on millions of smartphones (and there’s also Android Messages, but that’s more of a carrier and hardware OEM thing and all about traditional text messaging and RCS).

As for the rest of G Suite, Google also today announced the launch of a smart scheduling service that helps you find a convenient meeting room for your bi-weekly status meeting, as well as the launch of Quick Access in Docs, which uses machine learning to automatically surface the most relevant files. That’s similar to the Quick Access feature that already exists in Drive.

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