Google's history of failed social networks is long and well known, but it isn't stopping the company from trying again. Released yesterday (May 16), Spaces is Google's new chat app for iOS, Android and web browsers that aims to replace group messaging by adding built-in search.
Spaces lets users create private chat rooms for sharing links, photos and messages and it offers to make it easier to send those important articles and funny clips by letting you search Google and YouTube without leaving the app. I tested Spaces to see if it was worth your time, and while it may save you a few taps, it didn't offer enough to impress or convince.
Once I downloaded the app, it was relatively simple to get started. First, I named a new Space, and invited people to it via email, because the app could access my Gmail contacts. You can also invite friends through Facebook or via an invitation link. I tapped the arrow button at the bottom of the screen to start sharing content, and the app offered me Google Search and options to search YouTube, my own photos and to start a text message.
I managed to recruit two other Tom's Guide writers to join the room to share content, but I doubt my friends would have been as easily convinced to download a new app just to do something you can already do over text.
When I received a push notification alerting me of a link shared in a Space, the alert only contained the caption rather than the link's headline, which felt confusing and lacked context. After I opened the notification, I liked that Spaces places the most recent comment at the bottom of your screen, and lets me chat about the link by tapping on that caption.
It's nice that Spaces makes it slightly easier to share links, but chat rooms are more than just link hubs. It took me three taps to start a text message in Spaces, which adds complexity, rather than removing it.
The biggest problem Spaces faces is convincing users to switch from the group texts and Facebook Messenger conversations that they're used to. Between Google Wave, Google+, Buzz, Dodgeball, Orkut and Latitude, the search company has a worse track record than Wile E. Coyote.
Without more interesting features, Spaces is a more blatant ploy for Google to keep its search engine relevant on devices when users prefer to use apps. The company's Gboard keyboard bears the same Trojan-horse effect, placing Google search in front of users, but Gboard improves on iOS's keyboard in more impressive ways.
If Google could make it easier to text in Spaces and add better integration with Gmail, or maybe some of Snapchat's image and video editing features, this app could become more compelling. For now, I've already deleted it from my phone.