How to Send IMs in Gmail

Keep in touch with your friends when an email isn't fast enough

A smiling woman typing on a laptop computer
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You can use your Gmail account for more than just sending emails and signing in to Google's other platforms, like YouTube. The same page you use to check your inbox also contains a chat tool that lets you reach out to all of your contacts whenever you want.

Here's how to use instant messages in Gmail for those times that an email isn't fast enough.

How to Send IMs in Gmail

You can send IMs to your contacts from the same page you check your mail, which makes it possible to multitask without going to a different website. Gmail users can now use their inbox to participate in web-based IMs and webcam chats using Hangouts.

Here's how to set up and use chat in Gmail.

  1. Log in to your Gmail account.

  2. Click the Settings gear in the upper-right corner of the window.

    Turn off Gmail conversation view
  3. Click Settings in the menu that opens.

    Turn off Gmail Conversation View
  4. Click Chat.

    The Chat setting in Gmail
  5. Make sure the radio button next to Chat on is activated if it isn't. Click Save Changes when you've made this setting.

    Chat on and off options in Gmail
  6. When you save your changes, you'll return to the Inbox. Locate the chat menu with the green dot, underneath the "Contacts" link on the left-hand side. Press the cross (+) symbol to continue.

    Add chat button in Gmail
  7. Start typing one of your contacts' names or email addresses in the Search bar. When they appear in the results, click their name to continue.

    Searching for a contact in Gmail chat
  8. An invite window will appear that lets you customize the message to your contact. Leave the default or type a new invitation, and then click Send Invite.

    A chat invite in Gmail
  9. Your contact will receive a notification in which they can either accept or deny your request. If they accept, your conversation will start.

Options and Features in Gmail Chat

Once you start a conversation in Hangouts, a few more options are available for you to customize the experience.

How to Tell if a Contact Is Online

A green circle in the lower-right corner of a contact's profile picture indicates that they're online and available to talk.

You can still send messages to people who are offline; they just may not see them right away.

The green Available icon in Gmail chat

How to Chat in Gmail

An IM window will appear in the lower, right-hand corner of Gmail addressed to the Gmail contact you chose to chat with.

Enter your first message in the text field and hit Enter or Return on your keyboard to send your message.

The chat text field in Gmail

Other Options in the Gmail Chat Window

You can send more than just texts in Hangouts. Here are a few other things you can do while you're instant messaging:

  • Start a video chat: Click the camera icon to make your text conversation a visual one using the camera attached to your computer.
  • Add more people: Click the silhouette of a person to create a group chat in which everyone can participate and see each other's messages.
  • Send emojis: Select the Smiley face icon in the lower-left corner (next to the text box) to include emoji characters in your chat.
  • Send pictures: The Photo icon in the lower-right corner of the chat box lets you share a picture from your computer.
Chat options in Google Hangouts

The three icons in the upper-right corner of the window (in the bar with the other person's name in it) let you manage the window itself. The horizontal line minimizes the window to free up screen space. The arrow pops the chat out into a new window, and the X closes the chat window entirely.

You won't lose the conversation if you close the window. Click the person's name in the Contacts window to open it again.

Window options in a Gmail chat window

The Settings Menu in Gmail Chat

Click the gear icon in the upper-right corner to pull up a few more options to manage your chat.

The settings gear in a Gmail chat window

This window contains several things you can tweak:

  • Notifications: Check the box to receive alerts when your chat mate(s) send you a new message.
  • Conversation history: When you uncheck this box, messages disappear from the chat window after a short period.
  • Joining by link: If you send a conversation invite to another person, they'll be able to see everything that everyone has seen so far when they join if you check this box.
  • Archive conversation: This option saves a transcription of the conversation.
  • Leave conversation: Click this option to end the chat. It's particularly useful if you're in a group conversation that you don't want to be included in anymore.
Settings options in Google Hangouts