Google says there are more than three billion users of its Workspace apps – although it’s probably a safe bet that Gmail accounts for a healthy portion of the user base.
To get started, Google is now officially offering the setting to run Google Chat for all users. It’s a new setting within Gmail.
With the switch Google chat messages should now be an option for everyone, which can include direct messages and chat rooms, but Google is also introducing new terms to go along with the announcement, announcing the “evolution of rooms in Google Chat to Spaces.”
The space is basically the same thing as a chat room, but Google wants to separate it into its own high-level communication form alongside Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Google is layering some new features like improved threads, more emoji reactions, user roles, moderation tools, and “discoverable” spaces.
In this sense, Spaces seems to want to serve as a competitor to Slack and as a competitor to public Discord groups, perhaps also as an optional alternative to email groups.
The basic idea, according to Sanaz Ahari, Senior Product Manager, is that users can more easily switch between communication ‘styles’. The intent is to ‘preserve context’, as Ahari says, ‘if you start something with an email and then want to upgrade it to an interaction. More in real time between a group – or even a project – you can do that and you can keep context, and then you can all seamlessly upgrade to a meeting at the same time.”
Google promises that it will launch a “flexible and simplified user interface” for Spaces this summer.
The company is launching a new category called “Google Workspace Individual” at $9.99 per month, which gives users more workspace tools without requiring them to set up their own domain or a dedicated email address.
When Workspace users say “yes” to a meeting, they will be able to decide whether to attend remotely or in a reserved meeting room. Google has also made a date for Companion Mode, which encourages people in the meeting room to turn on their cameras as well so remote workers don’t feel completely left out — it should roll out in September on desktop and “soon” on mobile.
Google also snagged an announcement that it would finally introduce a progressive web app for Google Workspace in September that, in theory, might make it easier for Gmail users to get their email and other Google apps as if they were actual desktop apps and not just browser tabs. This is now possible across many Electron apps and single site browser windows, but it takes a lot more work than it should.
Google is adding options for organizations that will be necessary if they really want to have a chance to go after large companies, companies will be able to use their own client-side encryption of data, add more “trust rules” to various Drive files to simplify access and permissions, and name files based on their sensitivity.
And Google Workspace has been rapidly updated and iterated over the past few months, which is a possible indication that the company really intends to compete seriously with Microsoft. Google’s strategy goes beyond just improving its products – it’s integrating them together tighter, Gmail users will soon find more prompts than ever to bring them into other Google Workspace products. Placing the Chat, Meet, and Rooms (soon to be Spaces) buttons at the bottom of the world’s most popular email app is sure to increase usage.
The biggest question mark is whether Google can consistently explain the switch to chat, why it’s worth it, and what this new thing in Spaces really is. Now that Workspace is available to more than three billion ordinary people, the company will need to work hard to communicate clearly with all of them.