It’s not even a year into Google+’s life, and it already has a storied existence of battling Facebook. But in the social media ruckus, a useful tool seemed to pop out over all the +1s—Google Hangout.
Hangout is Google’s take on a conferencing web application—with it, you can create a virtual space to share video, audio, YouTube movies, and most recently, screen sharing. If most of that sounds familiar to you—and it should, if you love technology—it’s because this technology isn’t really anything new, even for a web interface. With other web-conferencing software available, (Skype, Wimba, and WebEx, for example,) when would you want to use Google Hangout?
- You want everyone to have equal presenting rights. There are going to be times when there is no presenter and no audience—all are one and the same. If you want everyone to have an equal voice, Google Hangout may be a better option than something like Wimba or WebEx.
- Multiple people want to share their videos or screens. Google Hangout provides a solid interface for everyone to share their content at once—you do have to switch between content to be displayed in the large view, but it’s a simple process, and users can choose whose content to view.
- You want to share your screen easily across all kinds of monitors. Google Hangout’s screen-sharing shows the monitor or application window of your choice, and fits it right into the interface. You don’t have to scroll around in a content window to see the whole thing. The resolution will automatically adjust, as well.
- You want to share documents and YouTube videos. I get a lot of questions about web-conferencing and its ability to share a video with viewers. If you’re just sharing screens, you can’t capture computer audio very well, and video framerates tend to be nigh-unwatchable. In Google Hangout, you can not only share your screen with people—you can also share a YouTube video to watch synchronously! You can also share any Google Docs for collaborative editing, and it tends to work pretty well.
- You can use Google+ accounts and Circles. Circles are generally easy to set up, and Google accounts are free. What’s not to like?
- You have users attending or creating Hangouts via mobile devices. Google+ works great on tablets and smartphones, and while you can’t actually share your screen, you can at least access the group call if you’re mobile!
Of course, there are definitely times when Google’s product doesn’t quite fit your needs, or simple falls short. Here’s what Hangout doesn’t do so well:
- You can’t control what people see. Obviously, this makes Google Hangout less desirable for online lectures. Users may choose to view whatever screens they want. In addition, someone may decide to share a funny YouTube clip of a cute cat during an important discussion. And if someone talks particularly loudly, you’ll see whatever they’re sharing show up on the main display!
- There is a 10-person maximum for a Hangout. This is an extremely important thing to keep in mind when planning a Hangout for a class. If you have more than 10 people that want to attend, you will want to consider an alternative.
- You need to install an executable file before using Google Hangout. This is easy enough on personal machines, but if you don’t have administrative rights on your corporate-owned machine, you may be unable to install the plugin required to use the software.
- Sharing documents is possible—sharing other applications is not. If you want to give users temporary control over an application on your computer, you’ll have to use other conferencing software.
- You have to use Google+ accounts and circles. This can also be a bad thing—some people don’t feel comfortable creating new accounts or simply don’t want to, and setting up Circles can take some time for the uninitiated.
The conclusion? Sure, Google Hangout is cool, but it’s not ideal for hosting classes or giving talks where you need to demand attention. It is, however, a fantastic tool for quick meetings and simple collaborations, or just sharing simple content with a group.