Google Talk gives you instant messaging, Gmail notifications, voice calling from PC to PC, and file transfers (though the last three are not available in Gmail chat or the Gtalk gadget). Recently, they’ve added group chat and AIM integration too. You can access it in a bunch of ways because it’s based on Jabber, a set of open instant messaging protocols supported by a variety of services and clients.
Here are tips starting with the most basic to help you get the most from Gtalk.
1. Access GTalk on the web or on your desktop. Sign into chat in Gmail (shown at right), run the Google Chat Gadget, use the downloadable application for Windows, or try a third-party instant messaging client like iChat that supports Jabber. Here’s a list of some of the clients that you can use to access Google Talk capabilities. Go to the main Google talk page for the gadget or the Windows download.
2. Try an IM aggregator. If you have some friends on Google Talk, some on AIM, some on MSN, some on Yahoo!, it’s nice to use a client that makes them all available in one interface. Popular IM aggregators that allow you to chat on the Google Talk network include Trillian (Windows, with iPhone and Mac OSX in alpha test), Pidgin (Windows and Unix), and Adium (Mac OS X).
4. Put it in your browser sidebar. It’s pretty easy to put the Google Talk Gadget into your sidebar. The Google Operating System blog provides a clickable link in this blog post that you save into your bookmarks. Then when you click it, it loads into the sidebar. An Opera version is available too. (Scroll down to the bottom of the post to get to the links that will create a bookmark for you.)
5. Make voice calls from one PC to another. To make voice calls with Google Talk, you need to download and install the Windows client, available on the Google Talk home page. And the person you’re calling needs to have the client installed too. Then, just find the person in your Friends list that you want to call and click on the phone icon next to his or her name.
6. Send a voice mail. (Windows client only). You can send one whether your friend’s logged into Google Talk or not. Your voice mail shows up as an mp3 file in your contact’s Gmail inbox. Just call a contact and let it ring, or access the options menu for your friend’s contact record and select Send voicemail.
7. Get notified of important events. (Windows client only). It can notify you of incoming Gmail and when someone in your Friends list comes online.
8. Transfer files. (Windows client only). If you’re using the client and so is your friend, you’ll see a Send Files button next to their name in your friends list.
9. Add an avatar. Upload your photo or other avatar using the General tab of Gmail settings. You can make it visible to everyone or only to your Gtalk contacts.
10. Auto-add email contacts to chat. By default, if you’re a Gmail user and a Gtalk user, the contacts you email often will be added to your Gtalk contact list. If you don’t like this behavior, you can change it in the Gmail Settings > Chat tab, by selecting “Only allow people that I’ve explicitly approved to chat with me and see when I’m online” in the “Auto-add suggested contacts:” area.
11. Save chat history in your Gmail account. Then you can search them just by searching your email. By default, this option is enabled, but you can turn it off in the Gmail Settings > Chat tab.
12. Get a sound notification when someone starts to chat with you. You need Flash installed on your computer. By default this is enabled; use the Gmail Settings > Chat tab to turn it off.
13. Chat with AOL Instant Messenger contacts. This week Google rolled out AIM integration so you can chat with your AOL Instant Messenger buddies right from the Gmail chat capability. You need to have an AIM account to use it and you can only be signed in with one AIM screen name at a time.
14. Chat with multiple people at once. In June of this year, Google introduced group chat into the Google Talk Gadget but it wasn’t available in the Gmail chat capability until the end of last month. To use it from Gmail, start chatting with someone, then choose “Group Chat” from the options menu at the bottom of the chat window. From the Talk Gadget, you’ll see Group Chat at the top of the messaging tab when you start chatting with someone.
15. Use animated emoticons. The gadget and Gmail chat offer a menu with three different styles of animated emoticons — circle, square, and basic made of ascii characters.
16. Put smarts at your fingertips. Now that you can sign into your AIM account from the Gmail chat, you can access the AIM-based tool SmarterChild that gives you a command line type interface to do a bunch of useful things like calculations or setting reminders or answer questions. Lifehacker editor Gina Trapani shows you all the cool things you can find out from it, including getting sports team schedules, accessing dictionary definitions, or checking your horoscope for the day. All you have to do is add SmarterChild as an AIM buddy and say “hi” to get started.
17. Get productive with IMified. IMified lets you access your favorite productivity tools from your IM client, whether you use the Gmail chat, the Google Talk Gadget, an IM aggregator, or something else. Add firstname.lastname@example.org as a contact to Google Talk. Send “help” and you’ll get a menu to get your account set up. Then with short commands you can access tools ranging from del.icio.us to Remember the Milk to your Google Calendar to Twitter and more.
For example, I have my Google Calendar set up on my IMified account. So I just pick Anne’s Google Calendar from the main menu and it gives me the option of adding an event or viewing the calendar.
You can use IMified with a bunch of other IM networks too.
Bonus. Chat with Yahoo! and MSN buddies with your favorite Google Talk client. Since Gtalk is based on Jabber, you can hook it up to your MSN and Yahoo! messenger accounts too. You’ll have to download another client to get it set up, but after you do that you can use whatever Gtalk client you like best — Gmail, Gtalk Gadget, or other. Here are detailed instructions to make it work.
Are you a Gtalk user? Share your own tips in the comments.