Google Hangouts  screenshot

Google Hangouts

May 2013. Google decides to unify its communication services into one: Google Hangouts. What the Internet giant aimed for six months ago with its launch was not only optimization but also paying attention to the instant messaging field, which the company had relegated in importance and had set aside for too many years. This platform combines Google Talk, Google+ Messenger and the Hangout functionality of Google+.

This software is no only geared towards video calls and group conversations, it's also capable of supporting a webinar, streaming events, and even monetizing a YouTube channel

Google Hangouts is available online, but it is also possible to use it on iOS and Android smartphones. To use it, you need to download a specific plugin that will display conversations as emerging windows on your computer’s desktop, while for smartphones they will appear as notifications, like Whatsapp messages for instance. Although Hangouts is linked to your Google+ account, you are not obliged to interact with it if you do not feel like doing so. Google Hangouts has a lot of useful functions, but some of them may be unknown for a number of users. This software is not only geared towards video calls and group conversations; but it is also capable of supporting a webinar (seminar on the web), streaming events, and even monetizing a YouTube channel.

What almost every user of Hangouts knows: quick overview

This instant messaging app offers group conversations and video calls that can involve up to 10 participants. In addition, conversations can be customized by giving them a name and labeling them with the desired image. Messages are kept in cloud storage, which means that you can write to somebody even if s/he is offline: the messages will wait until s/he is connected again. This also means you will be able to access past conversations too.

Moreover, Hangouts includes an option with which users are able to see when the other participants are typing and how far they’ve read in the conversation. Also, every image you or other participants post in a conversation will be automatically stored in a one-on-one shared folder with Google+, so collaboratively and without really realizing it, you will also be creating photo albums.

Hangouts’ applications

The Hangouts experience can be enriched with several apps, some of them are platform-native, some of them external and used as a complement. Below, we have listed some useful ones, but there are many more:

  • ‘Screenshare’ is a built-in app that makes it possible to share the screen and all actions we perform with other people. The most interesting point is that it is configurable to only share the windows you want.
  • ‘Volume Control’ is oriented to control local audio and adjust it depending on the situation. For example, silencing a participant or your own microphone.
  • ‘Google Drive’. Hangouts allows you to have access to your files stored in cloud storage and to share them with others, boosting collaboration.
  • ‘LowerThird’ is a plugin for Hangouts which allows other users to see your credentials (name, occupation and company) while you are performing a Hangout.
  • ‘Hangout Photo Share’ has no mysteries. It is used to share images while performing a Hangout.
  • ‘Symphonical’ is a project management app aimed at creating a tasks lists within Hangouts and afterwards, you can check them on Symphonical’s webpage.
  • ‘Google Mini Search’ is a plugin that allows you to perform searches without moving to the browser during a video conference.
  • ‘Cacoo’ provides the opportunity of creating diagrams in real-time and in a collaborative way with other members of the conversation group. There is a similar app called ‘White Board’ which, as its name suggests, generates a white board in which every participant can become a contributor and share suggestions.

Hangouts On The Air: YouTube broadcasting

Hangouts On The Air enables you to broadcast live conversations and watch them in real-time in YouTube and Google+, even with simultaneous subtitles. It is the perfect functionality for streaming services, conferencing or webinars. For instance, those distance-learning courses can make the most of this service, as it is free, it establishes non-geographical boundaries, reaching a wider audience and making them more accessible. There is no educational difference as students can learn as if it were a face-to-face scenario.

And that’s not all. Companies and marketers can also benefit from this. If they generate audience engagement, each user’s viewing will mean money. Moreover, making your video turn viral, trending and widely spread on social networks and communication platforms will be easier than ever, without forgetting that any video with Hangout On The Air’s integration is better ranked and positioned by Google.

To start broadcasting, you should previously enable the option of uploading videos which are longer than 15 minutes to YouTube, as well as connecting your YouTube and Google+ accounts. On the net you can find an app called ‘Comment Tracker’ that will help you to generate, track and answer users’ comments and feedback through YouTube or Hangouts.

Hangouts is always under development

Google stands for innovation and it is constantly trying to upgrade and enhance its products to beat its direct competitors, among which we can find the VoIP software, Skype. Hangouts has experienced changes too, though changes are welcomed by some and hated by others. There is no better example than the replacement of Google Talk and the difficulties Hangouts experienced during its first weeks of ‘life’: everybody missed Google Talk and even left Hangouts to move back to the previous version of Gtalk found with Gmail.

At the end of October, both smartphone and web versions were upgraded with interesting new features, attributes and improvements. First, they included the ability to share your location with others (sending your mum a map of where you are has never been so easy!) Second, they provided support for Android SMS, so users do not need to move from one app to another. Thirdly, they allowed for scheduling Hangouts On Air. Finally, they enabled full screen mode for mobile and desktop versions, as well as automatic correction of webcam lighting values.

When it comes to educational and academic purposes, Google+ have integrated a function called ‘Connected Classrooms’. It is aimed at students from all over the world and it makes it possible for them to attend their friends' graduations or end-of-year trips by using Hangouts. Some of the available places are Minnesota’s zoo, Seattle’s aquarium or Solar Impulse Hangar, and this initiative has been organized by well-known companies including National Geographic.