About Google Hangouts

hsimula's picture

There could not be a better location for an academic conference on January than Hawaii smiley. Well, perhaps that was the reason there were quite many Finns on the delegate list at HICSS (Hawaii International Conference on System Science). There were about 900 delegates out of which perhaps 50 were from Finland. Also quite many Canadians…any correlation with the weather perhaps? My paper was titled as “Rise and Fall of crowdsourcing?”. But let’s not talk about it but Google Hangout, (something our Spinn team has also been practicing with)

One of the keynotes was held by head of Google’s social products Bradley Horowich, who is in charge of Google+ and Google Hangout. The title of his presentation was: “Changing communication by bringing People together face-to-face-to-face”. According to Horowich context matters in the real world and therefore Google Hangout aims to bring the context to online communications too. Bradley emphasized that Hangouts are more than videoconferences and they work on commodity hardware with commodity cameras and on commodity Internet connections including mobile. Other key words he used to describe Hangouts were multiuser and real-time.

Bradley mentioned that Hangout is not just another Facetime or Skype. He used analogy that it is like someone hanging out on porch.  This is a kind of light-weight invitation – I am available if your wish”. The other products are based on organizing scheduled model or interrupt model. (So in this sense we have been “misusing” Hangouts with Spinn as are we have been with scheduled model mostly. :)

According Bradley, behavior of people matter in these systems – with Hangouts the entrance is based on something that is valuable for a person i.e. Gmail, so people do not behave badly because they carry their real identity with them. There are also certain features that try to differentiate Hangout. For instance speakers see different view, not the same static set of each other. A face picture is also mirrored as this is more familiar for a person than seeing a camera capture. Hangout on Air is a product, which sort of turns everyone with a cell phone info a real time broadcaster. There have been several implications e.g. in politics, entertainment, education, business, journalism science.

One example was Virtual photo walk where nature photographer have been broadcasting their journeys in the wilderness and people have been able to watch in real time. Hangout Captions – interactions with deaf and hearing people was also interesting use case. Also presidential candidates of USA were broadcasting their proceedings during the election year. In one videoclip Barrack Obama was interacting with ordinary people who were asking questions in real time. Additional one example was Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu connecting via Hangout – something which was not possible in real life due to Visa issues.

Additional feature of Hangout is Studio Mode, which adds high fidelity to sound quality. That has even led to emerge of new celebrities. Daria Musk was the first Google+ artist. She held her self-made concert via Hangout and people starting popping in from different continent and countries started joining. Her second concert reached 9000 and after that hundreds of thousand people. She was actually present during the keynote speech via Hangout and she gave 1 minute concert to the audience.

Additional examples was a Hangout from Mountain Everest and also one from a space station and one from subsea (Great Barrier Reef). Horowich also showed examples where Hangouts were used for distance learning applications and educational and academics applications. For instance there is a company called Colingo, which connects people who try to learn and practice English with  those who are native speakers.  Hangouts has been also used by a maker community for kinds who are running projects and Ghetto Film School, which aims to give young people opportunity to be filmmakers.

The presentation was entertaining but after few video clips it went perhaps too much on a marketing side and was not that informative in content-wise. It would have been nice to hear some insight about where Google is heading next with their products or what kind of generic visions the have, how and to which direction they see the mobile ecosystem developing etc. On the other hand, the presented cases resonated very well with rapid development and co-creation in the sense that enthusiast users can use the application in a way, which according Bradley, Google did not envisioned themself. Google had thought about family reunion as a potential use case but the democlips proved that users had actually created their own creative ways to use it. To conclude, Bradley wanted see these new applications and tools as chance to deliberate people from space, time and geographical restrictions.