This is quite interesting, if rather brown-trousering for the Google Paranoids out there. Gmail is incorporating Google Chat straight into its web interface – that’s not the interesting bit, though it’s quite good. They’re giving you the option to save chats as messages in Gmail, which is more interesting, and even more useful. The most interesting bit (and I hope you’ve not been holding your breath for this) is that they’re giving people the option to “go off the record” so that their chats aren’t saved by anyone else.
10. What does it mean to go off the record?
We know that sometimes, you don’t want a particular chat, or chats with a specific person, to be saved. Most existing IM services give no indication of whether the person you’re chatting with is saving your conversation. But when chatting in Gmail or Google Talk, you can go “off the record,” so that nothing typed from that point forward gets saved in anyone’s Gmail account.
Going off the record applies to individual people, and is persistent across chats. That means once you go off the record with a particular person, you will always be off the record with him or her, even if you close the chat window, and the two of you don’t chat again until several months later. You will not need to go off the record each time you chat with the same person, but you will need to make this decision for each person you chat with. We’ve designed this to be a socially-negotiated setting because we want to give users full disclosure and control over whether the person they’re talking to can save their chat.
They say “most existing IM services” but I don’t know of any others that do this. Of course, it’s not actually safe. Anyone who wants to can just cut and paste the text in the chat window, or if they’re using a third-party Jabber client like Psi to access Google Chat it will pay no attention to your “off the record” settings.
How much do you have the right – legal or moral – to restrict what sort of recordings people can make of what you say, anyway? Personally I tend to think that, as long as they’re not actually eavesdropping, you don’t have that right. If you email people, after all, you can expect that to be saved. You can always expect that they might remember what you say, depending on how good their memory is. I’m not very sympathetic to someone who doesn’t want what they say to count, and really, once you say something to me, it’s up to me how I want to record it. It smells a bit of Internet Lawyers. “I’m going to SUE YOU under the DMCA because I have COPYRIGHT and you CAN’T RECORD ME it’s ILLEGAL”.
Google’s merging of chat and mail does suit my view of data convergance though – I’ve written many times before about how I don’t really see the difference, or feel the difference, between types of data in any case, and the difference between a chat and an exchange of emails is practically zero, apart from the speed. On OS X I can use Spotlight to find information, which doesn’t differentiate between mail, chat histories, plain text files, bookmarks, random files with the right metadata, or anything else it indexes, but (a) I’m not always using OS X and (b) even when I am I’m not always using the computer that I have all that data saved on. My Gmail account is backed up via POP3 on my main machine, but without annoying manual synchronisation I won’t be able to index that, not to mention all the rubbish sitting around in `~/Documents’, anywhere else.
There’s a practical aspect as well: a really efficient browser-based chat system, with centralised chat saving and contacts, would be a godsend for people behind firewalls, save huge amounts of bandwidth, and make searches on it much more efficient. I got an email today with 16 bytes of content (three words plus a question mark) and 1235 bytes of header, footer and disclaimer. All that has to be indexed which slows down the whole process. The quicker I can convince people to get and use Gmail accounts for this sort of nonsense, the better, which is clearly what Google would like, and I don’t mind since it’s of mutual benefit.
The above starts me thinking about a program called Yojimbo which I’ve been trying recently, and going “hmm, yes but also could try harder” about. Leave that for later, I think.
P.S. have a cookie
P.P.S. GOOGLE – WRITE AN OS X GOOGLE TALK CLIENT