Keep Conversations Going Outside Your Gmail Inbox With Google Talk

Tina Sieber 12-12-2012

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.

google talk

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.

google talk app


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.

google talk app

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.

google talk app

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.

google talk review


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.

google talk review


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.

google talk review

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.

Keep Conversations Going Outside Your Gmail Inbox With Google Talk Google Talk 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.

Keep Conversations Going Outside Your Gmail Inbox With Google Talk Google Talk Profile Picture

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


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?

Related topics: Chat Client, Gmail, Google Hangouts, Online Chat.

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  1. Redsaid
    January 2, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I used to receive email notifications of missed gtalk chats on my mobile devices until I activated the gtalk app on my BlackBerry. (I still receive it in my gmail account on my laptop, though.) I have since deleted the app on my BlackBerry, since I prefer chatting on the computer, but I still dont receive email notifications of missed chats on my phone or iPad's gmail push notifications. Since I used to before activating the gtalk BlackBerry app, I'm assuming that it somehow is to blame for the vanished mail notifications. Any idea on how I can turn the feature back on on my mobile devices? Thank you!

  2. Douglas Mutay
    December 14, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Thank you Tina. Google talk is the only chat app that I use. I had once a yahoo account and MSN but had to close the yahoo and kept only msn because of some microsoft services on my pc. But for chat, gtalk has always been the best!

  3. Chew Jian Yue
    December 13, 2012 at 5:49 am

    Need a mac and linux application..

  4. Junil Maharjan
    December 13, 2012 at 4:39 am

    Always in beta. agreeing with Marko D. here.

  5. Ashwin Ramesh
    December 13, 2012 at 4:11 am

    But I do miss the "Invisible" option in Google Talk. That is the main reason, I don't tend to use it. Otherwise, a pretty good option to chat.

    • Douglas Mutay
      December 14, 2012 at 7:48 am

      ?? The invisible option is still available on google talk. Are you sure you checked on the status option. I do have it on the web version of google talk that I have always used.

      • Ashwin Ramesh
        December 14, 2012 at 8:59 am

        No, I think you are mistaken. The chat that comes with your Gmail Inbox supports invisibility. However, the Google Talk client for chatting from the desktop doesn't. That is what I'm missing :( Check out the last line in the link below:

        • Douglas Mutay
          December 14, 2012 at 10:20 am

          Thanks Ashwin. I haven't used the desktop version for a while and always use the web version. This is why I have never noticed the missing option.

      • Tina
        December 14, 2012 at 9:46 am

        It's true, the web version has the invisible option, the desktop version doesn't.

        • Douglas Mutay
          December 14, 2012 at 9:49 am

          I see. Maybe because the desktop version is still on everlasting beta...
          By the way, nice new profil picture of you :-)

  6. Anonymous
    December 13, 2012 at 12:41 am

    Does anyone know when will g talk stop being beta and change interface? Never? Still, its the best :D

    • Tina
      December 14, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Well, it's a solid program and apparently Google hasn't seen a need to develop it further. Hence, it remains in beta. I just hope this doesn't mean that they will eventually sack it.