The term “Gchat” is used by everyone from you and your friends, to the bloggers at the New York Times, and, perhaps a little too often, in the pages the New York Observer. A recent cover story in New York magazine, “The Kids Are (Sort Of) All Right,” conceived to be an authoritative portrait of the millenial generation, opens with the author Gchatting her sister and excerpts no fewer than 40 lines of said Gchat. A quick search on Twitter shows how easily Gchat slips into casual conversation. “I will Gchat you,” “Thanks, gchat history!,” “oh, i have to tell you something! you on gchat?” etc., etc. “Peep us at the Grammys, we’d like to thank Gchat,” raps Das Racist.
But the popular instant message client ensconced in your Gmail is not Gchat, as this reporter has learned. In fact, Google seems to actively resist the use of “Gchat,” despite its massive popularity and cultural significance (see “On Gchat,” “Gchat Status: An Appreciation,” and “Pitchfork Writer Ian Cohen Seems to Have Blocked Me on Gchat“). Instead, Google subtly corrects users who say it and studiously avoids it in any official communiqués.
When Betabeat asked Google for the proper terminology, we were directed to this page of trademarked names. The correct terminology is “Google Talk,” we were told, or, if you must, the more generic “Google Chat™ instant messaging service.” (Anecdotally, we are told “only people in India say ‘Google Talk.'” There are a lot of people in India, but can you imagine? “I’m making that my Google Talk status!”)
There are also some remaining official instances of “Gmail chat” (archaic). Google will sometimes say just “Google Chat” (check the source code). But never Gchat.
pretty sure gchat was never an official google word
— fflte (@lefft) September 3, 2011
We thought that was weird, as “Gchat” is obviously catchier and already in use, and there is no way Google hasn’t noticed. There are 879,000+ search results for it. The product is even referred to internally as Gchat, according to one Googler.
There is no U.S. trademark on file for “Gchat,” although the neologism is used by third-party apps and unaffiliated websites. The Twitter handle @gchat belongs to someone called Gorilla Guild who hasn’t tweeted since September.
We are puzzled as to why a phrase so popular among young hip people has been blacklisted by the GOOG. “I am really surprised that Google does not embrace the much snappier and more popular term ‘Gchat’ which mirrors Gmail,” this reporter wrote to Google’s press team. “Is there a reason for emphasizing the longer name?” The company has not responded yet.
Maybe Google prefers “Google Talk” because the same app handles voice, video and calls to landlines, in addition to instant messaging. Maybe Google is afraid that prefixing its products with a G is too close to Apple’s tired i; Gmail is called “Google Mail” in Europe. Or maybe it’s just saving room for the +.
But could the resistance to “Gchat” be another example of how Google, despite its ability to build tools that we all love and depend on, just doesn’t grok us? Twitter adopted the “retweet” and accompanying terminology from its users.* “I think it’s just another example of Google completely failing at social,” the significant other of the Googler said in confidence. “Their products are obviously great but sometimes their Aspergers shows—they just don’t ‘get’ people.”
*UPDATE: A reader reminds us of a better example of user-generated jargon: Google, again, which initially resisted the use of “Google” as a verb. Now it’s in the dictionary. You can’t fight the people, Google.