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RIP Google Hangouts, Google’s last, best chance to compete with iMessage

Today Google realizes it needs to fight iMessage, but it’s 8 years too late.

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Today, November 1, 2022, Google Hangouts is scheduled for death. The phone app has been individually booting people off the service since July, but the last vestiges of Hangouts, the web app, will be shut down today. Hangouts was—for a brief period—Google’s best, most ambitious, most popular messaging effort, but 5 billion downloads later, Google is moving on. Hangout’s next of kin, Google Chat, should have all of your messages and contacts automatically imported by now, but the new service is a faint shadow of the original plan for Hangouts.

The closing of Hangouts is the latest chapter in the mess that is Google’s messaging history. Google Talk launched 17 years ago, and Google still doesn’t have a competitive message platform. Part of the reason we’re on Google’s 10 millionth messaging app is that there is a solid, stable home for messaging inside Google. The 2022 messaging lineup is a great example. You’ve got the Google Workspace team making Google Chat—that’s Google’s business team making a Slack competitor—and then there’s Google Messages—a carrier-centric sort-of-competitor to Apple’s iMessage—which seemingly grew out of the Android team. Is the team that makes Android more or less important than the team that makes Gmail and the rest of the Google apps? Both have their understandable reasons for chasing messaging, but splitting the Google user base across two incompatible products makes it tough for either project to gain any traction. Besides those two big projects, there’s also still Google Voice, and a bunch of siloed messaging services in apps like Google Photos and Google Pay.

Once upon a time, Google tried to fix this. Messaging was supposed to have a real home at Google, and that home was supposed to be (cue dramatic thunderclap) Google+. Back in 2011, Google’s then-CEO Larry Page decided social was the future and spun up the Google+ project across the company. The head of G+ got the title “Senior Vice President” making him one of the eight-ish people that reported directly to Page, enshrining Google+ as one of the main pillars of Google. This division was supposed to take full ownership of messaging, and it launched its messaging project—Google+ Hangouts—two years later.

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