Goodbye, meeting requests. Hello, meeting bots.
A new Slack-killing app called Google Hangouts Chat uses a bot that can watch what you say on your team chats. It works a bit like Apple's Siri or Amazon Alexa in that it understands natural language. Let's say you and the marketing team are talking about a shindig for later in the week to discuss a new website or make plans for a sales conference. Someone throws out a few suggestions on time and place. When you reach a conclusion, you can tag @meet in the conversation, and the bot will then look at everyone's schedule and pick the best time and arrange the meeting.
In a recent demo (by Google, through Hangouts), I found this a bit jaw-dropping, to be honest. The bot can parse the language and word choices using something called natural language processing (NLP), a term that is likely to come up often this year. It means the bot understands what you say. For now, the bot is mostly looking at schedules and finding open time slots. That's still extremely helpful. You can also tell the bot to "meet now" and it will create a meeting room in Hangouts for everyone to click.
Hangouts Chat is a competitor to Slack, but its main distinguishing characteristic is that it works within the G Suite, which used to be called Google for Work. The apps are all familiar to anyone who has tried Gmail or Google Docs (a.k.a. everyone); the main difference is that the G Suite is really for companies so everyone on the team can easily share files and arrange meetings. You can invite other people into Hangouts Chat who are not on your team, but they'd have to register their account with Google (this is mostly a security step). Chat is available for companies that sign up to use the early adopter program but will otherwise roll out gradually to most companies.
It's worth noting that @meet is one of the most promising bots I've seen in a while. It's not fancy at all, but it gets the job done. You can see where it might become even more helpful down the road. If the bot watches your conversations, it might know when to pop up automatically and suggest a meeting. It might use machine learning to identify who needs to be involved, where the meeting should take place, if the conversation has not evolved enough to even have a meeting yet, to identify a meeting task list and make assignments, and much more. Meaning, it might do everything related to meetings except ordering the bagels and making the coffee, although even that's feasible.
More than anything, the @meet bot shows how collaborative workplace software can change how we work and make life easier. Even in this early stage of merely suggesting meeting times, the bot eliminates several steps. You don't have to create the meeting, pick the participants, or find out if everyone can make it. Instead, you let the bot do that work for you. It could save 5 minutes for every meeting at least.
Add that up over the course of a month or a year and the bot becomes really compelling, even to the point where you might consider dumping Slack. Hangouts Chat is highly integrated as well, although most actions--like opening a new document or a slideshow--can create "tab fatigue" in that you have multiple tabs open. (Microsoft Teams, the other new Slack killer, tends to keep documents, schedules, and even video calls within the Teams app, not in a tab.) Still, Hangouts Chat is always a click away.
I've already arranged with Google to be an early tester for Hangouts Chat through my own G Suite account, since I'm primarily on Gmail and Google Docs all day. Once I get some more real-world experience, I'll do a follow-up post about how this new @meet bot saves time.