We pay tribute to the home of inane online chat.
On Monday, millions of office workers will wipe away a tear as instant messaging system Gchat is shut down for good.
Gchat, introduced in 2005, a year after Gmail’s release, had a simple concept and a distinct lack of frills. As a Wireless staffer put it earlier this week, “Do you remember discovering *star* for bold and _underscore_ for italics??”
It basically stayed the same for 12 years and seemed to be something Google was secretly ashamed of and eager to replace.
And so its death has been a long time coming.
In a blog post in March, Google announced Gchat would be permanently axed and replaced by Hangouts, which debuted in 2013. Users will be forcibly switched over.
Many people opted for MSN Messenger over Gchat in its formative days, and during the rise of the smartphone and the introduction of Facebook Messenger in 2011, it remained a niche option.
It was Gchat’s urgency that made it relevant. A green dot meant available, orange meant idle, red meant f**k off, grey meant I have a life.
After a quick office straw poll here at The Wireless, it was discovered four of the five of us were Gchat users.
BIG Gchat users.
None of us still use it, of course. The office’s communication tool of choice is now Slack, while we’ve all got a few Facebook chat boxes open at any given time.
Yet there is still something a little sad about the platform’s death.
So this is it - our eulogies to Gchat. Let us each pour a 40 ounce on the kerb. We’re sorry Hangouts, but you’ll just never measure up to our first love.
It seems weird to mourn thousands of conversations about mostly nothing at all.
I searched my archives and was pleasantly surprised to find a distinct lack of keywords like penis and sex in historic conversations. Perhaps my adolescence wasn’t so adolescent?
The phrase need a beer did, however, show up 11 different times.
I was a Gchat user from very early on. That’s not me showing off - quite the opposite.
In a lame bid to be subversive, I refused to sign up to Facebook until about 2012. Gchat was therefore my online window to the outside world and it often felt like I was trying to drag people away from Mark Zuckerberg’s empire to the platform.
Among the monosyllabic introductions and lazy abbreviations, I did find a few conversations of meaning.
There was the time Mum told me she had gotten a new job and was moving house. There was the lengthy and childish argument with the best friend that’s still not resolved. There was the time I asked a girl out on Gchat. Here’s me and my sister discussing the subject:
Zasu Towle: is it not like official just casual. no dates?
Max Towle: early stages, but we've kissed
Zasu Towle: :P
Max Towle: what does that face mean?
Zasu Towle: its a face sticking its tongue out
Max Towle: josey grossy
I also remember being dumped by the same girl on Gchat.
After I graduated, Gchat became the most covert way to message people at work. It just looked like I was checking my email … All. Of. The. Time.
Hell, if my first boss had ever discovered what Gchat was, the halcyon days would have ended in a blaze of fire, or a fiery all-staff email.
Going through my old Gmail chats has made me realise more than ever what a horrible, mentally ill mess I was in my early 20s. Honestly, I don’t know how I survived, and I don’t want to talk about it, because now I feel anxious. Thanks for nothing, Gmail chat.
[5 hours later]
OK, on second thoughts, I will share some of them, because, YOLO:
The breakup: you only care about how sad you are and how i will never understand how you feel.
maybe i won't
but you really have to get over it now susan. it wasn't meant to be... it's just the way it is... you are going to be ok and you won't feel like this forever.
stop being such a victim... no one likes a miserable person
The mean girl session: [friend’s girlfriend’s name redacted] found [friend’s name redacted]’s porn collection and vomited til she had black eyes ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
The dog-related youtube videos:
The friend: You are quite impossible sometimes but also one of my favourite people.
Wake up dead nodes! I just poked all my dead Gchats with a stick hoping a skeleton would fall out and I could write about it for this. The result is that my browser is bottom heavy with dormant Gchat windows, at least I get to admire the sensibly proportioned chat windows one more time. Gchat’s visual austerity let it hang back as a medium so your important chat content could really shine. You know, auspicious openings like hey man, hi, hey, and yo.
My earliest archived Gchat (2010) is preceded by an email from the same person. The subject header? Get Skype! Was I a Luddite? I was certainly a late iPhone adopter, and the thing that jumps to mind when I think of the Gchat era is printing out Google Maps directions on A4, carefully annotating them with pencil, and heading out on music video production runs to Penrose in my Honda Civic. I’d return home, Panda costumes in tow, and excitedly wake up my desktop computer, hoping for the happy blue glow of people who wanted to chat.
But let’s not forget the paranoia of Gchat - so and so is typing - WHAT ARE THEY TYPING? For the oldest millennials, Gchat might have been the first platform where you were digitally snubbed. Your chirpy chat initiation causing a happy green dot to fade to a shade of grey that even Davey Havok couldn’t describe.
It’s also worth noting that if you listen to Warren G’s “Regulate” and mentally switch all mentions of G-Funk to ‘Gchat’ it sheds zero light on the nature of Gchat (Gchat is definitely not funked out with a gangster twist). My research also concluded that there’s no overlap between the Gchat and G-Funk eras.
Much like replacing song lyrics with aesthetically similar words, online chat is a pointless investigation that over a lifetime adds up to nothing at all. I predict that it will die out altogether very soon. To Gchat I say, K bye.
I never used Gchat, nor was I particularly aware of it.
I used to spend my nights awake, working in a giant room with most of the lights turned off. There were empty desks and chairs all around, the dull glow of a computer monitor left on illuminating a patch of darkness. My colleagues in the office would drift off as my shift wore on, until it was just me.
My job was to edit New Zealand’s most popular news site from the evening through to the early hours of the morning. There was a small team of us, but most nights we were all in different towns and cities - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson, Hamilton. One guy even worked from Baltimore.
We’d touch base on the phone, email about details, but Gchat was my virtual watercooler. It was where we’d gossip about the latest newsroom drama, speculate about what the boss was going to announce next and vent about the slog through those early hours.
We also got to know each other as people. In those hours of isolation, with non-stop deadlines and what could seem like endless task to complete, it was was possible to feel like an automaton. Being able to talk with cool, interesting people is one of the great parts of working in a newsroom. Gchat was our vehicle for that.
And now some of us are friends on Facebook.