Google Talk: Are They Really Offline or Just Invisible?

Google Talk InvisibleGoogle Talk (Jabber) features something known as invisibility which makes the user seem to be offline, but really is online. This is a popular feature among most IM networks. However, is it possible to figure out if someone is really offline or just using invisibility just to avoid talking to you on Google Talk? The answer is yes.

Google Talk Chat

Google Talk Chat with 'David'. He went invisible and then offline, which is indicated by the Red Error Messages.

So how did I identify when David in the conversation above was invisible or offline?

Step 1: Take the chat off the record. If you are using chat inside Gmail, this can only be done when both users are online. In clients like the official Google Talk client, the chat can be taken off the record anytime.

Google Talk Off the Record

Step 2: When your friend is shown as offline, send them a message.

Step 3: If they are invisible, it will send normally. However, if they are offline, the server will bounce an error message saying that they did not receive your chat or cannot receive messages right now.

Why Does This Work?

Sending a chat message when a user is offline uses Offline Messages and therefore requires that the Chat is being recorded. If its not being recorded, then the other user won’t receive your offline messages.

However, if they are invisible, they will still receive your messages.

So if you ever find your friend randomly signing off for some reason, just try these simple steps!

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Brian is the co-founder of TechAirlines. He is a developer currently focusing on mobile and web development. He is currently a sophomore at Stony Brook University, majoring in Computer Science.

  • Spaceblue

    Would this tip work inside Gmail?

    • Brian

      Yes, the only difference between chat clients and Gmail chat is that you can only go off the record when the other user is online. When they’re invisible or offline, the “Go off the record” button will not work. You need to set it off the record before they go offline (or invisible).

  • Creastery

    Hmm…any idea for Windows Live Messenger as well?
    I have been figuring it out for months on how to check if the person is online or pretending to be offline…

    • Brian

      Hi Creastery!

      I currently only know of a way to check Google Talk, Yahoo!, and AIM. I’ll continue researching for Windows Live Messenger, but currently there doesn’t seem to be a way to check for invisibility/offline/block.

      I’ll make a post on it if I ever figure out a way.

  • Master Gobada

    Oh. My. God. Not cool, guys. The first post should be MINE. >.<

    What exactly is the use of determining whether someone is invisible or just not there?

    • Brian

      Hi Master Gobada!

      Well, this would be useful if for example, someone says they have to go, but you’re suspicious that they are just saying that to avoid talking to you, assuming they didn’t block you of course.

      Here’s another possible situation. You need to talk to someone, but they appear to be offline. You don’t want to send them any offline messages because they might wonder why you sent something like “Hi!” when they were offline, so you take the chat off the record and then send them a message. Of course, in this situation, you need to be using a chat client (like Google Talk) and not the built in chat in Gmail.

      Otherwise, there’s not much use to this. :)