So this month I have been mostly been using Google Hangouts! I admit, I’m a bit late to the party, everyone else seems to have already had a go, but here are my thoughts so far…
What exactly is it?
Google Hangouts is basically Skype à la Google. It’s a video chat service that allows you to have one-on-one chats and group chats with up to ten people at a time. With the name ‘hangouts’ the group interaction seems to be pushed a little more than the one-to-one, but it works well for both. As well as chat and the message window you can share your screen, documents, scratchpads, images, links, videos etc. with other users. You can access Google Hangouts from computers and Android and Apple devices.
One of the exciting things you can also do is broadcast the hangout live on Google+, on other Web sites and on a YouTube channel. Saving to your YouTube account could be really handy – though I’d be reluctant to do this without getting people’s agreement first. Some of the ideas behind this are explained in Hangouts on Air. In fact Hangout parties seem to be all the rage – I think the Open Knowledge foundation had one last year!
However the most exciting thing by far is the ability to add virtual hats to people! This is one of the offerings of Google effects, others being drum roll sounds and facial hair!
So last week I sat in a Google Hangout with over people and the quality seemed pretty good, a lot better than Skype has been of late. It’s also incredibly intuitive, the buttons for things are big and obvious. I have heard from some long-term users that the set up/layout etc. changes quite a lot, but that it has improved over time.
I haven’t created my own proper hangout yet, but it looks as easy as typing a couple of names in the hangout box. My only issue so far is that at one point someone invited me to a hangout and I missed the invitation because it only came up in my notifications. Maybe they chose not to send me an email?
A few cons
The biggest issue I guess for some is that you need a Google account and it’s all very connected to other Google offerings like Gmail and Google drive. Some people have pointed out that unlike Google Talk, which it is apparently set to replace, it’s not built on open standards – a bit of a concern. The Electronic Frontier Foundation have commented that “These changes represent a switch from open protocols to proprietary ones, and a clear step backward for many users”. This may mean less interaction with other messaging systems and that as a user you have to sell your soul to Google. Why did they have to spoil the party!