Why we're not dropping Slack for Google Hangouts Chat...yet.

At the beginning of this month, Google announced they were rolling out Hangouts Chat to all users of Google Suite over a week or so. Our suite was finally updated with this “Slack killer” so we were able to try it out and see if we would be dropping Slack for this particular competitor. We are well aware that there are a whole plethora of inter-office communicators available, however, there were several features of Hangouts Chat that appealed to us, notably the Google integration

Hangouts Chat is not to be confused with Google Hangouts. Although they share a similar name (and oddly they do cross over - more on that later) they are not the same thing.

Why would we switch?

Slack has everything we need and has managed to fulfil those needs since November 2014. The only bug-bear we have with the free tier of the messaging service, is the restriction on the message history. Those who use Slack will know that on the free tier you only get 10,000 messages before your history gets truncated. This may seem like a lot to begin with, but when you add several integrations and automated updates, that message limit soon gets eaten up. Unfortunately, more than £60 a month on just a chat application to view the full history is not a justifiable expense.

That is where Google Hangouts Chat comes in, as we are paying for Google Suite, it makes sense to utilise all of their offerings including the unlimited message history that comes with it.

So a handful of us in the office tried Google Hangouts Chat out for a week and, as the title suggests, we won’t be switching just yet. But why not?

Advantages

Before I get into the problems with Google Hangout Chat, let me cover the niceties and benefits of switching to this new platform:

  • Unlimited messages - as mentioned above, the unlimited message limit is a huge bonus
  • One less account to manage - we already use Active Collab, Google Suite, Trello, Gitlab etc., so to have one less service to sign into, or add people to when they join, the better
  • Google Drive integration - the Google Drive integration is really simple, allowing you to browse and share files without leaving the app
  • History mode - Google Hangouts Chat allows you to disable history mode, which will delete messages after 24 hours of them being sent - handy if you’re planning a surprise for a colleague....
  • Webhooks - As with Slack, Google Hangouts Chat allows you to use webhooks to send data to channels without requiring an account, allowing you to aggregate your data in one place
  • Threads in rooms (channels) - This is quite a nice feature in that when you post a message in a room, it creates a mini-thread. This allows you to contain conversations and keep them on topic. It can lead to confusion of not knowing where to look, but in time this could be really helpful. It is also implemented a lot better than Slack, as they hide their threads behind a small link which can easily be missed

Disadvantages

So with all those great reasons to switch, why wouldn’t we? I’ve listed the reasons we’re not moving across below - there are a few minor niggles which we could get over if it wasn’t for the two last major flaws. If these get resolved, then maybe Google can tempt us over!

  • Webhooks are per room  - despite having webhooks, they seem to be specific per conversation and room. Where in Slack you create a webhook and define a channel, this can be overwritten when posting data. This can’t seem to be done in Google Hangouts Chat, and thus, a new webhook URL would need to be generated whenever you need to post to a new location
  • No giphy where there is no @giphy - In Slack, the giphy integration (allowing you to send Gifs to each other easily) is a slash command, in Google Hangouts Chat, it’s a user. This means if you are in a conversation where the @Giphy bot is not, you cannot send each other humorous gifs. Especially annoying with private messaging
  • Google emojis look terrible - Slack allows you to choose the emoji style you want and allows you to add custom emojis. With Google Hangouts Chat you are stuck with a limited selection of unappealing faces
  • Confusingly integrated with Hangouts - Gmail has had hangouts integrated for a while - although no-one I know uses it. When you start a private conversation in Google Hangouts Chat, you can continue it when logged into Gmail. Rooms, however, are not accessible - the same goes for if you accidentally go to normal Hangouts instead of Hangouts Chat when trying to login
  • An app is required - It seems you have to download the app to use it, despite the app just being a wrapper for a web page. Trying to locate this web page is extremely difficult and makes using Hangout Chat less appealing
  • Delayed notifications - Some notifications seem to wait a while to let you know you’ve got a message - especially if you already have the chat window selected, it seems to get confused as to what you’ve actually read
  • Can’t join existing rooms - This is the biggest issue; you can’t seem to join existing rooms unless you’ve been invited. Slack allows you to browse, preview and join public channels, whereas Google Hangouts Chat gives you no indications that other channels exist. On the first day of trialling Google Hangouts Chat, we ended up with 3 “General” channels, as each of the trial users didn’t realise another one had been made

Because of these reasons, especially the last two,  we won’t be using Google Hangouts Chat for our internal messaging. Have you thought about using the platform? Have you made the switch? Let us know in the comments below what you think!

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Mike Street

Written by Mike Street

Mike is a front-end developer from Brighton, UK. He spends his time writing, cycling and coding. You can find Mike on Twitter.