Today Google started rolling out Google+ chat functionality to all Google Chat services, making the company’s IM more central to Google’s social layer.
In a Google+ post published this evening Gmail announced that from now on users who are in each other’s circles on Google+ will be able to hold private conversations with each other on Google Chat, even if they are not connected on Gmail. Previously Google would only let users who were connected by Gmail to chat with one another.
This seemingly small updates marks two important changes to Google+. First, it further expands Google+’s reach into the company’s other semi-social products – Gmail, iGoogle, and the Google Talk Client- and second it places Google+ as the focus for instant communication on Google’s other social site – Okurt. This update will also affect third party apps that plug into Google Chat, meaning Google+ connections will be available outside of the + ecosystem.
Google is being cautious with this change (wishing to avoid a Google Buzz-style privacy disaster). The company emphasised that a user who has blocked someone on Gmail chat but has also circled them on Google+ will not be able to chat with them until they have first unblocked them.
Google is also taking this opportunity to encourage users to chat with each other more often. From now on Google Chat will no longer arrange contacts in alphabetical order but will place chat buddies in chronological order, so the latest people you chatted with will be top of the list. This brings the other Google sites in line with Google+’s implementation of Google Chat.
Google Engineer Olof Lindholm said in a Google+ post today that the company has begun to releasing these changes to all users.