Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Thing 22: Google Hangouts

The great thing about cloud applications is that they undergo incremental development - no waiting years for the next release. The annoying thing about cloud applications is that they undergo incremental development - no waiting years for the next release - but you may wake up one morning to find it's all changed.
Such was the case with New Hangouts, its release timed to perfection a few days before it was destined to become one of our 'Things'. So finally...

When I were a lad (quite a while ago now), many futuristic TV programmes included people talking to each other using some kind of visual communication system - video screens on the wall or a hand-held device. They also tended to include some rather dodgy fashion statements, but that's another issue.

The point is we've been expecting it for years, and now we can all join Jeff Tracy and his sons, together with Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, and talk 'face to face' when we're miles apart.
Actually, we've been using video-conferencing and Skype for ages now, but a Google Hangout makes it really easy, AND you can broadcast it if you need.

What's a Google Hangout?

It was a component of Google+ (G+) (see Thing 8) with which you can hold a video conversation with one or more people simultaneously, but the new version integrates better with email calendar etc. Although Google maintain you don't need a Google+ profile to use Hangouts, in practice you do if you want to start/join group video calls or use it with iOS devices. If you don't already have a Google+ profile, take another look at Thing 8.

You can get into a hangout through several routes, but when you get there it will basically look the same. In the example shown here, Larry Lamb and Sean the Sheep are enjoying a video chat.

During a Hangout you can:
  • Invite more people 
  • Choose who to view (also auto-selects person talking)
  • Mute microphone and/or camera
  • 'Chat' silently with typed text
  • Share screens
  • Capture the screen image
  • Share and edit Google documents
  • Wear silly hats - via the icon below drive documents (optional)

Why should I Hangout?

Interesting question, suggesting some US companies need to think more carefully how they name products and services. Have I ever told you my (true) story about the re-branding of the 'Customer Care' section of the 'Wang' computer company? I digress.
  • It's a simple conference call, where you don't have to book special rooms or equipment
  • You can have a face-to-face conversation with people - an alternative to a voice-only phone call
  • Great for meetings when people are in lots of different places
  • You can have a meeting without getting out of bed (not recommended)
  • Friendlier contact with distance learners
  • Broadcast an interactive lecture that can be viewed later
  • Screen-sharing feature lets you 'show what you mean' when it's difficult to describe
The list could go on...

What do I need?

  • a computer with a web camera and microphone - most laptops are now equipped with these. It works fine with a PC, Mac, Chromebook and probably several others I haven't tried. With an iPad you need to download the (Free) G+ App.
  • a reasonably good network connection - it will usually work on the UoY Wi-Fi.
  • a G+ account - see Thing 8 if you need to know how to sign up for G+
... and that's it.

How do I start a Hangout?


Since the recent changes, starting and joining a hangout has become even easier as it now integrates more closely with email chat and calendar. Look for:


On G+, over on the right, is the new 'green with quotes' Hangout icon. Choosing it reveals a list of the people with whom you've already 'hung out'. Start a Hangout using any of these methods:
  • Click the + next to New Hangout and enter an email address
  • Hover over a person from a previous Hangout and choose the Hangout icon at the bottom of their profile pop-up - then choose the camera icon to initiate contact
  • At the foot of the Hangouts pane, hover over Hangout Party and choose Start a Party (yes, I know). Invite people using email addresses - you can also invite G+ circles

Another method:
  • From your G+ page, under the Share what's new... box choose Hangout

Email chat

  1. Open the chat section of the mail screen (speech bubble, bottom left - unless you've moved it).
  2. Make sure you are signed in to chat - you and others with cameras are listed with a camera icon instead of a simple green disc (though this isn't 100% reliable).
  3. You can then initiate a Hangout with an individual on your list or start a hangout and invite several people using various methods - watch for pop-up boxes, chat boxes etc and look for the icons.

Calendar Hangouts

This lets you plan a hangout at the same time as you invite people to a calendar event.
  1. Set up an event in calendar as normal, but make sure you choose Edit Event to see the full details. Invite people as normal.
  2. Before you Save, choose the Add Google+ Hangout link - it's labelled Video call and is below the Where textbox.
  3. It's also a good idea to make sure you set a reminder or you may leave people hanging around for you when they should be hanging out with you.
  4. When the appointment time arrives, view the appointment and choose the link next to Video call - this should take you direct to the Hangout. It doesn't matter who joins first.

Hangouts on Air

You can also choose to do a Hangout on Air. This means it is 'broadcast' (streamed) as it happens and others can view it. The session is also recorded and stored on YouTube (see Thing 21), which means you can provide others with a link to the recording after the session has finished.  Some at the University are making great use of this to do 'broadcast' lectures, so their students don't need to get out of bed (humour).
(this is a screen shot of a publicly shared Google in Education Hangout on Air)

You can initiate a Hangout on Air:
  • From G+ - point at the Home icon and choose it on the list, then select Start a Hangout On Air
  • If you have a YouTube account, visit your YouTube home page and choose Upload - you'll see Hangouts On Air listed under Create videos.


Camera Safety - There have been some recently publicised cases of laptop cameras being hacked, allowing the hacker to access the view from the camera. This is unlikely to be a problem if you have proper protection (anti-virus software etc), but it's worth being aware of this possibility. On many computers a small light shows the camera is on and can warn of unexpected activity, but in any case you should avoid hangouts whilst showering.

 Now it's your turn, but you'll need a friendly colleague to try this with, and you'll both need access to a computer with a web camera and microphone. The best way to get the hang of Hangouts is to try hanging out and experimenting with the features - 30mins to 1hr should be enough for starters.
  1. Start by finding a friendly, suitably-equipped colleague (who doesn't need to be in the same room but it can be easier to start with if you can do real talk with each other).
  2. Make sure both of you have your G+ page open (and get them to agree to respond to you!).
  3. Start a hangout from G+ and invite them to it using their email address.
  4. If you can find another friendly, suitably-equipped colleague, invite them too. It's more fun with three.
  5. Try other features, like screenshare and silly hats.
  6. Hangup this Hangout and initiate one with your well-equipped colleague via the chat feature of Google mail - make sure you're signed in to chat.
  7. See if you can create and edit a Google document between you.
  8. Hangup again and in your calendar create an event about 15 minutes in the future. Invite your suitably-equipped colleague(s) and also select the Add video call link (just beneath Where), making sure a reminder is set, and Save the event.
    You should find that when you click on the event, the pop-up includes a link to Join video call. When the appointed time arrives (the reminder says it's a video call), join using this method (and encourage your colleague(s) to do the same or you'll end up taking to yourself - I do that all the time (who? me? Yes, you!))
  9. Practice regularly, and if you have access to other devices (iPad users pay attention), you might like to try it with those too. In many cases you'll need to download an App to get it working.
  10. ...and when you've experienced some interesting hangouts, write about it in your Blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment