I’m not usually one to say bad things about… well, anything, but more and more people I interact with lately have been using google chat at their preferred communication medium and I have been asked a few times why I dislike it, so I thought I would do a blog post on it and can then just point people here.

First a few pros before any cons:

  • It works fine in firefox as far as I have seen
  • It’s included in “google workspace’, so if you have that you have google chat too.
  • It looks ok. Links, emojis, reactions, links, videos all look/work fine.
  • It’s easy to start a chat with multiple people or groups
  • All your chat history is there on restart (but see below)
  • It’s encrypted (but no idea if google can read all the history or not)

And now all the actual current cons:

  • It’s a browser only application. If I don’t remember to reload that tab after rebooting, it’s just not there and I get no notices. Needless to say: no 3rd party applications have a chance to do better than the web interface.
  • It’s thread model is utter junk. There are ‘threads’ of conversation, but they are all in the same linear timeline, so its really really hard to tell or notice if someone added something to an old thread without knowing you need to scroll back up to it.
  • It’s horribly “unreliable”. By this I mean I could have the app loaded in my browser and _still_ not see notifications because: google is randomly asking me to login again, google chat decides to put <— and 100 more lines here –> collapsed section, google chat randomly decides to put “and 10 more messages” button at the bottom, Someone could have started a new thread and the one you care about has any of the above happen to it and you never know.
  • Someone you are messaging could just not use google chat or be busy or away. Google chat will helpfully mail them about your message… but 12 hours later. You can also say you are ‘busy’ but only for 8 hours at a time. If you are gone for a week, too bad.
  • Surprisingly search is kind of bad. It finds things you search for, but there’s no way to go to the ‘next’ match or see how many or navigate at all in it.
  • Related to search, there’s no way to have logs locally to use unix tools on like grep, etc.
  • There’s a indicator of how many messages are unread in a room/chat, but no indications if thats just general or if someone mentioned your name.
  • No good keyboard navigation, you have to click around to change channels, threads, conversations, etc.
  • Unless you have been invited, it’s virtual impossible to find rooms. There’s a ‘browse rooms’ dialog, but it only lets you search in the room name, not description or who is in what room or anything.
  • Depending on how things are configured, you may not be able to chat with everyone, only people in your company or workspace.
  • You can adjust notifications per room somewhat, but it’s not as flexible as any IRC client. You can notify on everything, or on just mentions of your name, or mentions of your name and every new thread or nothing. No way to look for keywords or anything.

And of course there’s potential future cons:

  • google changes chat products more than a bakery changes it’s day old bread. Is this iteration of google chat going to stick around? Who knows? Could be a completely rebranded and different one next week. ;(

So, all in all, I will use google chat if I have to, but it’s going to be my least favorite chat method and I wish everyone would switch to something else. Matrix perhaps?