Google Talk, which powers Gmail’s built-in chat feature, isn’t a proprietary instant-messaging network. It’s built on top of the XMPP standard, also known as Jabber, so you can connect Gmail’s chat feature to any IM network. Some networks like AIM are interoperable with Gmail, while some like MSN and Yahoo require special Jabber transports.
Like traditional XMPP clients, Google Talk supports Jabber transports – allowing you to communicate with other IM networks from within Gmail. These Jabber transports, also known as gateways, are run by third-parties. All your IM conversations will be logged and searchable in your Gmail account.
AIM & XMPP
AOL Instant Messenger is interoperable with Gmail. To add an AIM contact to Gmail, add firstname.lastname@example.org, where screenname is the contact’s AIM screen name. You can also add any other XMPP or Jabber address in the form email@example.com. AOL even has a special tool that will automatically import your AIM buddies to your Gmail contact list.
When you add an address directly like this, your contacts will see your Gmail address instead of your AIM username. Transports work differently, giving you the same account name on the other instant-messaging service – for example, if you add an MSN transport, contacts will see your standard MSN address and not your Gmail address. They’ll have no indication you’re using a transport.
Potential Problems With Transports
We’re going a bit off the beaten path here. Transport servers aren’t run by Google or the instant-messaging networks and may be unreliable, occasionally going down. Giving a transport service your IM account passwords and routing your instant messages through it can also be a security and privacy concern. If you’re on the techier side, though, you can run your own Jabber transports on your own server.
Jabber Transport Setup
You can’t register with Jabber transports from within Gmail, so we’ll need another Jabber client for the setup process. We’ll be using Psi, a popular, cross-platform Jabber client for the initial setup process. This setup process is only necessary once – after registering with some transports, you can close Psi or uninstall it entirely. Download and install Psi, disabling automatic startup during the installation process.
After installing Psi, log in with your Gmail address. You’ll need an application-specific password if you’re using two-factor authentication with Google Authenticator
After entering your account information, set your status to Online in Psi, click the General menu, and select Service Discovery.
You’ll be informed that Gmail doesn’t implement any services we can register with. That’s alright – click OK to continue.
Google doesn’t offer any transports, so we’ll need to find a Jabber server that offers transports we can subscribe to. You can find a list of public Jabber servers at XMPP.net – unfortunately, there’s no way to see which servers offer transports on the page. Plug a Jabber server’s address into the Service Discovery window and to view the services it offers. For example, if we plug in jabber.org, we’ll see that it offers several services – but no transports.
Try another one like draugr.de and – jackpot – we see a variety of available transports. This server offers transports for AIM, ICQ, IRC, Yahoo and other networks. If you’re looking for an MSN transport, you’ll want to continue looking for another server that offers an MSN transport. For example, some people have reported success with jaim.at.
To use a transport, right-click it and select Register. You’ll be prompted to enter your username and password for the service – here we’d enter our AIM screen name and password. (Remember that you can use AIM from Gmail without setting up a transport, but this process will be the same if you’re setting up a transport for MSN, Yahoo, IRC, or any other network.)
The transport will appear on your Psi buddy list. It offers to add your contacts from the other IM network to your Google Talk contact list – authorize the contact-adding.
Within Gmail, you’ll now see contacts from the other IM networks on your contact list. Mouse over them and note the format – I added the AIM transport at draugr.de, so the contact’s address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If I wanted to add another screen name to my buddy list, I’d add their AIM screen name and append @aim.draugr.de.
The transport is now connected to your account and you can now talk to the other network from within Gmail or any other Google Talk client. You can close Psi – you’ll only need it if you want to set up another Jabber transport. The transport sits in between you and the other instant-messaging network.
How did this work for you? Let us know in the comments.