Google Talk is Google’s own desktop instant messaging program. You can log in using your Google account. And if you are on Gmail, you have already been using Google Talk, possibly without noticing. With the Google Talk desktop application, you can stay in touch with your contacts and continue the conversation after logging out of Gmail. The tool supports text chat, file transfers, voice calls and voicemail.
This article shows you how to set up, customize, personalize, and actually use Google Talk. Note that some features are only available if you have a Gmail account, including voicemails, chat history, and offline chats. A complete list of features and a thorough Help section with detailed explanations can be found here.
Setting Up Google Talk
After installing Google Talk, you will want to tend to the usual suspects, i.e. should the tool start with Windows, how should it behave when you click something, and what notifications do you want to receive.
Click Settings in the top right. In the General tab select your preferences regarding automatic start and opening links. Then switch to the Notifications tab and customize potential distractions.
Customizing Your Friends List
Gmail users who first log into Google Talk will find that they already have friends. Google Talk adds people to your friends list based on your email contacts and it sorts the list based on how often you communicate with them. However, you can fully customize your friends list.
First, let’s see how and which contacts are shown. Click the View button in the bottom left. Here you can limit contacts to your actual friends by deselecting Show all address book contacts. Note that this option is only available while Show offline friends is checked.
Next, click Settings in the top right, which should open in the General tab. Besides hiding contacts, you can also deselect to add people you communicate with often.
To invite friends, click the +Add button in the bottom right of the chat client and either enter email addresses of your friends or choose from your contacts.
You can Block or Remove individual contacts, by right-clicking on the name in your friends list and choosing the respective option from the menu.
When you return to Settings, you can view a list of Blocked contacts in the respective tab. From here you can also unblock them.
You can further customize which friends are shown through the Gmail based chat client.
Interacting with Friends on Google Talk
The main purpose of Google Talk obviously is to exchange quick messages, rather than sending an elaborate email. To do so, double-click on a name to open a chat window, then type your message. Use the Call button in the chat window to initiate voice chat. Or click Send voicemail to leave an audio message for your friend.
Alternatively, you can right-click on a contact in your friends list and select the respective option (shown above) or simply hove the mouse over their name until a little window with their profile summary appears.
You can view past chats or send files via the menu that opens when you click the arrowhead in the top right of the chat window or profile summary. Here you can also Go off the record, meaning your chat won’t be saved.
Personalizing Google Talk
Finally, let’s get fancy. There are a few ways in which you can play with the look. To change the font, go into Settings and find the respective button in the General tab. Under Appearance you can change the chat theme.
To change your picture, click the image next to your name in the chat client and either select an image from the gallery or click on More pictures… to browse for a file on your computer. Accepted formats are JPG, GIF, BMP, or PNG and the minimum dimension should be 32×32 pixels.
As a last step, customize the status message shown below your name. Click the arrow read next to the default and select an entry from the list or create a custom message.
Google Talk is a very versatile chat application, yet not overloaded with features. It’s quick to set up and intuitive to use. My only critique would be that it’s not possible to create friends lists, for example based on Google Plus Circles. That said, Google Talk could be much better if it integrated it with Google Plus, like its browser based version in Gmail already does. There you can see which of your circles a contact belongs to and you can start a hangout with them. There is no reason why this can’t be available through Google Talk.
What is your impression of Google Talk?