Ever since rebranding Google Hangouts Meet in early April, Google has been on a Google Meet blitz. The onslaught began less than three months ago, and yet it feels like it’s been years. Maybe that’s because Google has made so many announcements that it’s hard to keep track, or maybe it’s because time in the age of coronavirus is strange. I cannot tell. In any case, the timing is no coincidence: Google Meet is clearly a direct response to Zoom, which during the pandemic … oh, what’s the sense of repeating it, you already know.

Google has been adding features and sticking Meet everywhere it can, almost as if the company’s very existence depended on it. This isn’t a new play. The Google Meet push is remarkably similar to the Google+ strategy. More than a decade ago, Google decided that Facebook was an existential threat. Google tried various social experiments for years and eventually decided that Google+ was its darling. The timing may be different this go around — again, you know why — but the scheme is the same. Google decided that Zoom is an existential threat. Google has bet on various communication apps over the years, and Google Meet is its current darling.

Feature overload

Google has done a lot with Meet in just three months. The company reorganized the team in charge, integrated Meet directly into Gmail, and launched Meet free for anyone with a Google Account. Any of these on its own would be massive, but taken together, all at once, they show Google really isn’t kidding around.

As for all of Meet’s new features, I won’t list everything added and announced in the past three months (but I will call out noise cancellation). So here’s a reminder of just the past two weeks. You can now launch Google Meet from Gmail on Android and iOS, make group Google Meet calls on Google Assistant smart displays (like Next Hub Max), and use the dedicated meet.new domain to start a new call.

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In terms of newly announced features just yesterday, Google Meet is getting:

  • Layout improvements: See up to 49 participants at once, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
  • Hand raising: Let participants “raise their hands” when they have a question or something to say.
  • Meeting attendance: Give meeting hosts a simple way to see who attended their meeting.
  • Breakout rooms: Make it easy for large meetings to split into smaller groups, have parallel discussions, and reconvene once finished.
  • Q&A: Provide a channel for the audience to ask questions without disrupting the flow of the conversation.
  • Polling: Engage participants in large meetings with real-time polling.
  • Additional moderator controls: Give meeting hosts additional controls for muting, presenting, joining, and more.

The above reads like a Zoom feature list. (Google isn’t the only one moving on Zoom — Microsoft is doing the exact same thing with Teams.)

More timely and more useful, for now

Maybe adding features like no tomorrow is fine. After all, Google Meet feels more valuable than Google+, at least during these WFH times. Google of course is betting Meet will still be useful long after we’re no longer required to be sheltering in place.

Many remember Google+ as one of Google’s biggest failures, if not its biggest. And many hated Google+. But Google+ had its fair share of hardcore fans and advocates. Just ask Mike Elgan, who wrote a Google+ eulogy. (Google+ still technically exists by the way. It’s being replaced by Google Currents, which is a Google+ just for enterprise customers, on July 6.)

Keep in mind that the Google+ hate largely grew from Google trying so desperately to push Google+ onto users who wanted nothing to do with it. Most notably, Google thrust Google+ onto YouTube’s billion-plus users. Now it’s thrusting Meet onto Gmail’s billion-plus users.

Maybe putting Google Meet inside Gmail makes more sense than Google+ inside YouTube. But if Google learned anything from Google+, it should be careful about where else it integrates Meet.

Google is clearly moving quickly and boldly to prevent Zoom becoming the Facebook of videoconferencing. As it does so, the company needs to make sure its own users don’t start loving to Zoom and hating to Meet.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.

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