Enlarge / Take the Google Messaging quiz! Can you name all the icons?

Ron Amadeo

Google Talk, Google’s first-ever instant messaging platform, launched on August 24, 2005. This company has been in the messaging business for 16 years, meaning Google has been making messaging clients for longer than some of its rivals have existed. But thanks to a decade and a half of nearly constant strategy changes, competing product launches, and internal sabotage, you can’t say Google has a dominant or even stable instant messaging platform today.

Google’s 16 years of messenger wheel-spinning has allowed products from more focused companies to pass it by. Embarrassingly, nearly all of these products are much younger than Google’s messaging efforts. Consider competitors like WhatsApp (12 years old), Facebook Messenger (nine years old), iMessage (nine years old), and Slack (eight years old)—Google Talk even had video chat four years before Zoom was a thing.

Currently, you would probably rank Google’s offerings behind every other big-tech competitor. A lack of any kind of top-down messaging leadership at Google has led to a decade and a half of messaging purgatory, with Google both unable to leave the space altogether and unable to commit to a single product. While companies like Facebook and Salesforce invest tens of billions of dollars into a lone messaging app, Google seems content only to spin up an innumerable number of under-funded, unstable side projects led by job-hopping project managers. There have been periods when Google briefly produced a good messaging solution, but the constant shutdowns, focus-shifting, and sabotage of established products have stopped Google from carrying much of these user bases—or user goodwill—forward into the present day.

Because no single company has ever failed at something this badly, for this long, with this many different products (and because it has barely been a month since the rollout of Google Chat), the time has come to outline the history of Google messaging. Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for a non-stop rollercoaster of new product launches, neglected established products, unexpected shut-downs, and legions of confused, frustrated, and exiled users.

Table of Contents

  • Google Talk (2005)—Google’s first chat service, built on open protocols
  • Google Talk ran Android’s entire push notification system
  • The slow death of GTalk
  • Google Voice (2009)—SMS and Phone calls get a dose of the Internet
  • Google Wave (2009)—An email killer from the future
  • Nobody knew what Wave was for or how to use it
  • Google Buzz (2010)—The non-consensual social network
  • Slide’s Disco (2011)—An independent app escapes the Googleplex
  • The Google+ Era (2011)—Google’s social panic
  • Google+ Hangouts video chat—The first Hangouts
  • Google+ Huddle/Messenger—I guess we should have some kind of DM function
  • A competitor emerges—iMessage has entered the chat
  • One more competitor—WhatsApp is now worth $22 billion
  • Google Docs Editor Chat (2013)—Just like Gmail chat, but not integrated with anything
  • Google Hangouts (2013)—Google’s greatest messaging service
  • The death of Hangouts, unified Google messaging, and hope
  • Google Spaces (2016)—A messaging app for Google I/O 2016 attendees
  • Google Allo (2016)—Google’s dead-on-arrival WhatsApp clone
  • Allo’s legacy: The Google Assistant
  • Google Duo (2016)—A video companion app for… WhatsApp?
  • Google (Hangouts) Meet (2017)—Not Zoom
  • YouTube Messages (2017)—Yes, this was really a thing
  • Google (Hangouts) Chat (2018)—Part 1: Cloning Slack is actually a good idea
  • Google Maps Messages (2018)—Business messaging, now with the instability of Google
  • Google & RCS (2019)—So we found this dusty old messaging standard in a closet…
  • RCS is bad, and anyone who likes it should feel bad
  • Google Photos Messages (2019)—You get a messaging feature! And YOU! And you!
  • Google Stadia Messages (2020)—Two great tastes that taste great together
  • Google Pay Messages (2021)—We actually learned nothing from Google Allo
  • Google Assistant Messages (2021)—Text and voice chat, for families?
  • Google Phone Messaging (2021)—Isn’t this going a little too far?
  • Google Chat, Part 2 (2021)—No wait, this is actually a consumer app now!
  • Is anyone in charge at Google?