Google Mail includes its own built-in chat application. There have been several versions of it over the years, so you might hear it called Google Chat, GChat, or Google Hangouts, but all three products essentially work the same way. This article will give you an overview of how you can use Google Chat to converse in real time with co-workers and students.

One of the big advantages of Google Chat/Hangouts is that you can quickly communicate with co-workers without disturbing those around you. If you work in a shared or open office (as 95% of us do), Google Chat is a much less obtrusive way to ask a question rather than making a phone call.

The Google Chat Interface

When you're logged into your Google Mail account with your TSS credentials, you should see a small icon in the lower-left corner that looks like a speech bubble. Clicking on it will toggle the Chat pane on or off:

Clicking on the small drop-down arrow next to your username will reveal a list of options and settings. If you look at your personal options, the first option will usually be something along the lines of "Try the New Google Hangouts". I'd recommend enabling this, as Hangouts is the newer, more feature-rich version of Google Chat. Besides having better support for smartphones, Hangouts can also handle video and audio chatting. The rest of this article will assume that you've enabled Google Hangouts.

Starting a Chat Conversation

To start a chat with someone, click on the magnifying glass icon and then start typing their name. Once you see the person you're looking for, click on their name. Note that Hangouts will also look for people outside of the TSS directory, but it will show results from the Directory and your contacts first:

This will open up a chat window in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. You can type messages, send emoji, or share images using the bar at the bottom of the chat window:

That's pretty much all there is to it. If you want to add more people to your chat, there's an icon near the top of your chat window that has a silhouette with a plus sign that will let you do this.

Settings and Tweaks

There a number of settings for Google Hangouts and Chat  that you can access by pressing the arrow next to your own name on the left-hand side of the screen:

These are mostly self-explanatory. You can change how you receive notifications, change what's visible to people you chat with, block or unblock people, view your archived chats...the list goes on. The notifications section is particularly useful because it allows you to customize how Chat/Hangouts informs your of an incoming message. Say you're at a conference and you don't want to be disturbed by incoming chat messages; you can set the "Mute notifications for..." setting to '8 hours' to minimize these interruptions. If you want to turn Google Chat/Hangouts off all together, you can do that in your Gmail settings under 'Chat'. Keep in mind that anyone who tries to chat with you will not get any notification that you've turned chat off, they'll just think you're snubbing them.