10 Hidden Google Hangouts Easter Eggs

Tips and tricks for getting the most out of Google's chat product

Google Hangouts is one of those things that almost all of us use. The service makes it easy to send chat messages to your friends and colleagues using Gmail (which let’s face it, is pretty much everyone these days), and offers a great option for video chatting with loved ones that are far away or remote work colleagues that you want to get a little face time with. Not sure what I’m talking about? Google Hangouts is the chat client built into Gmail and Google+. Some people call it G-Chat, some Google Chat, but the official name of the product is Hangouts.

The basic functions, like sendings messages and starting a video chat, are pretty simple and straightforward with Google Hangouts. Hangouts has a number of features; however, that are hidden within the product that can make your chats much more interesting. Try a few of these to improve your own personal Google Hangouts experience and impress your friends and coworkers in the process.

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Take Conversations Off The Record

Did you know that Google is keeping a record of everything you say in a Google Hangouts chat? Depending on the types of conversations you’re having, that can be great news or something exceptionally unwelcome. If you’re using an account owned by your employer, then those chats will also be available to your boss long after you’ve left the company.

If you’re about to have a sensitive conversation, or just don’t want conversations with a particular person to be archived, you cantata individual conversations off the record. Off the record convos work just like normal ones, but there won’t be a transcript of them for you to go through later on. 

To take your conversation off the record, open the chat window and then click the Options button (that’s the gear icon at the top right of the window right below where you would close the conversation). From there, uncheck the box that says “Hangout History,” and then click the ‘OK” button at the bottom of the window. From now on, your conversations with that person will not save to your account. If you ever reach a point where you want to start saving them again, just go into the Options menu again and check the box.

Keep in mind that just because you're not saving a transcript doesn't mean your conversation is entirely secure. If you're having a really sensitive conversation then it's always better to take the it offline, or even better, have it in person.​​

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Make Phone Calls

Sure, you knew you could use Hangouts to text and video chat, but did you know you can use the service to make VoIP calls? If you have a Google Voice number (which is free), then you can use it along with Google Hangouts to place free phone calls to places in the United States as well as many other countries.

I’ve used this feature a lot, most often in situations where I have to jump on a conference call but have a low cell battery, or situations where I have a great WiFi signal but not a solid cell signal. When it comes to domestic calls—calling the United States from the United States—you'll likely be able to place your call for free. If you're placing a call abroad, the average listed price for most countries is $.10/minute, which is on-par with many other long-distance services. If you’re a calling card user, you can also use a calling card through the service.

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Bring in the Ponies

One of Google Hangout’s Easter Eggs is a herd of ponies. Yes, you read that right, ponies. While chatting with a friend,  type “/ponies” into the window to have a small, My Little Pony-esque, pony dance across the screen. Take things a step further by typing “/ponystream” into the box. That brings a herd of ponies for a trot across the screen. It can be a great conversation starter, or an excellent way to change the conversation topic pretty quickly. Also, who doesn't like ponies?

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Draw a Picture

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? If what you’re trying to say is better said in a drawing than a text message, you can use Google Hangouts to create drawings on the fly. To start, hover your cursor over the photo icon in the bottom right of the display. When you do, a pencil icon will appear beside the photo. Click on that, and you’ll be given a blank white page where you can begin creating your artistic masterpiece. At the top of the window you’ll see a palette where you can select new colors and pen sizes and adjust your image. 

It's actually a pretty robust drawing tool. Artists that want to ​dedicate some time to their creation can make some pretty amazing pieces of digital art with the tool, or at least something a step above a stick figure.

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Create a New Chat Window

Sometimes it can be annoying to have to constantly switch between the window where you’re trying to work, and your Google Hangout window. If you want to multitask, you can actually pop out the Google Hangout chat box and put it anywhere you want on your desktop independent of Gmail or Google+.

To pop out your chat window, simply click the arrive button at the top right of the window. Your chat will then move from your Gmail or Google+page to a smaller separate window that you can move around as you’d like.

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Send in the Pitchforks

Did a friend say something you disagree thing? Pitchforks can be a fun way to send a message and/or spice up your conversation. Type “/pitchforks” into your chat box to have a tiny army of people show up at the bottom of the chat window, all carrying pitchforks. If they didn't get your point before, pitchforks will definitely make them understand how you feel.

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Download the Apps

If you’re a frequent Google Hangout user, then it makes a ton of sense for you to download the app. Google has an Android and an iOS app for Hangouts which allow you to use Hangouts while you’re out and about on your mobile phone.

The apps have most of the same functionality as the desktop version. That means you can use them to send and receive text-based messages to colleagues that are at their desks while you out at lunch, and you can use the app to place video calls.

Keep in mind that messages sent and received using Google Hangouts on your phone, as well as video and voice chats, require data. That means if you aren’t connected to a Wi-Fi network then your phone is going to use your data plan in order to run the app. If you’re just sending text-based messages, then that’s not a big deal. If you plan on placing video chats; however, then you could quickly rack up a pretty hefty data bill. Be aware of what you’re getting into before answering or placing that call.

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Move Your Chat List

By default, your list of contacts appears within Gmail on the left side of the screen. If you’d rather it appear on the right side, you can make that happen. To change things up, click the Settings menu and then select Labs. from there, select the option to enable right-side chat.

Later on, if you decide you'd rather have the chat list on the left side of the page after all, you can go back into the same menu and uncheck the box to make your Hangouts list show up on the left side again instead.

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Change Your Friend's Avatars

When your friend Bob changes his avatar to a recent meme, it’s funny. When five of your friends decide to do the same thing, it’s confusing. If your friends have selected avatars that make it difficult to determine who they are, you can change their avatar yourself. The avatar will only apply to your friend on your account (so no need to worry about them getting upset). To change things, look up the person via your Contacts list and then click “Contact Info,” from there, tap “Change Photo” and then select the image you’d prefer to use for them going forward.

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Hire a Translator

Need to talk to someone who isn't a native English speaker? Google has a handful of bots you can use that will translate whatever you type into Hangouts into the language of your choice. Options include German, Spanish, Italian, and even Japanese. You can check out the full (quite long) list of supported languages, and enable the ones you think you’ll need, here.

To make it work, you'll need to set up a chat with the bot you need and talk to it just like you might hold a conversation with a friend. For instance, in order to have your conversation translated from English to German, you would start a conversation with "en2de." In this instance, en2de would be the same as if you were talking to your friend John Smith. When you type a message in English to en2de, you'll get back the exact same message except in German.

If you're having a conversation with a non-English speaker within Hangouts, you'll have to copy/paste messages into the convo with your bot to get translations, and vice versa to write your own messages in that person's native tounge.

Using Google Hangouts can make keeping in touch with friends and colleagues an easy task. Use some of these tips to take those conversations to the next level.