Google just launched a new version of Hangouts that integrates it right into the Gchat spot on your inbox. For the most part, the Gchat experience is mostly the same, but there's one new feature that functions very differently. Your "buddy list" isn't just your contacts, it's a rolodex of all of Google+.
Type in a name into the chat search box, and it'll first give you results for people you know, and then starts giving you relevant results for strangers. When I tried searching first names using a dummy Gmail account with no friends or contacts, I still got tons of results for complete strangers, including famous people. It prioritizes verified or popular users when searching by first name only.
Basically, Hangouts is a White Pages that gives you access to Gchat anyone with a Gmail address. You don't need to know their email address, just a name. The ability to search out and then ask to chat strangers already existed in the Google+ world, but not right inside your Gchat window that lives inside your inbox.
Let's have some fun.
When I search the new Hangouts chat list for "Katie" with my personal email, I get results from my existing Contacts:
But if I use a dummy account where I don't have existing contacts, a bunch of random Katies show up:
Let's call Katie Couric!
I don't know any Larrys (because I'm not a million years old, duh), so when I search "Larry" on my personal account, look who pops right up:
When I type in a contact's name to chat with, I get all sort of other people in the results:
And while you can't make anyone actually chat with you, you can at least annoy them by constantly sending Hangout requests
Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.
Contact Katie Notopoulos at email@example.com.
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