Everyone was freaking out about the Gchat outage today. But there is no Gchat, officially.


(REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Files)

Headlines decried a two-hour outage of Gchat across the Web this afternoon. "Gchat is down, so you'll have to talk to your friends in person," said the Huffington Post declared, while Slate quipped, "There's no drama quite like the drama of a Gchat outage." But there's just one problem: There is no Gchat and there never was -- at least not officially. While nearly everyone casually refers to Google's web and mobile chat products as "Gchat" the official name of their primary instant and video messaging platform is Google Hangouts.

Hangouts launched in May of 2013, as an intended replacement for the original Google+ video "Hangouts" application, a Google+ chat feature, and the longstanding Google Talk. It came with this heart string tugging video and the tagline "Conversations that last, with the people you love."

The service is Google's attempt to create a cohesive future for messaging and is built into many of its products, including Gmail and Google+, and also has its own dedicated desktop and mobile applications. Google Talk is still available, but likely slated for eventual retirement. While Google Voice hasn't yet been fully integrated, Google director of real-time communications Nikhyl Singhal told the Verge Hangouts was "the future for Google Voice" around the time of its launch.

The integration of messaging services into Hangouts is essentially a sub-component of Google's drive towards a cohesive online experience under the umbrella of Google+. As of last fall the social media platform claimed 300 million active users, but for many it still feels like a ghost town.

Part of that is because the integration of already popular services such as YouTube into the platform boost its  numbers, arguably artificially. Of course, the company's hope is likely that once familiar services are integrated, more people will actually start using Google+ for social sharing. And by capturing that social interaction, Google can create a more complete picture of users to inform its primary business: Advertising.

But regardless of whether or not Google is succeeding at that broader mission, its branding efforts on their chat capabilities haven't been able to quash "Gchat." It crops up in headline after headline and has entered the vernacular of most tech savvy youths. Googling for the term returns 610,000 search results. (One Washington Post reporter who uses the company's chat products so often she jokes she "lives on" them wasn't even aware Gchat wasn't the official name.)

Google did not immediately respond to an inquiry about its position on the term. The company has responded to previous inquiries on the subject by referencing its list of trademarked names -- which does not include Gchat. But it's largely understood among the tech media that Google doesn't care for the nickname. And if so, it wouldn't be the first time Google has gotten anxious about the language surrounding its products.

Back in 2006 when "Google" was added to the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary as a verb, the company published a blog post explaining in very specific terms how the word should be used so as to maintain its trademark. "While we're pleased that so many people think of us when they think of searching the web, let's face it, we do have a brand to protect, so we'd like to make clear that you should please only use 'Google' when you’re actually referring to Google Inc. and our services."

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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