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April 3, 2013

Why You Should Use Google Hangouts

The much-maligned Google Plus has received copious amounts of attention in the past couple months after becoming the number-two social network in the world. A report released by GlobalWebIndex, a collection of market research on web usage conducted by London-based consultancy Trendstream, found that Google Plus had accumulated 343 million active users by January 2013, up from 90 million total users a year before. This massive surge means that Google Plus has passed Twitter (288 million active users) but is still a distant second to Facebook (693 million active users).

Features Are Responsible For Google Plus’s Growth

Speculation about Google Plus’s future growth, the end of the social network’s “ghost town” image, and rumors of “Facebook Fatigue” tended to be the topics discussed in the flurry of blog posts that followed GlobalWebIndex’s announcement. Unfortunately, little time was spent looking into the reasons why Google Plus has grown so rapidly and become a force to be reckoned with in an industry that has killed off many seemingly strong products in the past.

This is a shame. Google Plus should not be defined by the threat it poses to other social networks or the ways it relates to the rest of its parent’s services. Despite what many skeptics initially asserted, Google Plus is a superb social network that regular internet users can benefit from. This is largely due to the features incorporated into Google Plus; though many of these features are anything but novel, their simple design and integration with a larger social media platform add copious amounts of value to the network as a whole.

One of Google Plus’s most important features, and one the main reasons why it is coming to dominate the social networking world, is its Hangouts feature. This free video chat service is akin to Skype in that it allows users to talk face-to-face and voice-to-voice to anyone in the world. The similarities pretty much end there, however. Hangout’s features have allowed President Obama to hear and answer the questions of ordinary citizens from across the country and propel an aspiring musician to stardom in a matter of weeks. Many professionals, like real estate agents and consultants, use Hangouts to meet with potential clients. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish these feats with Skype.

Features That Makes Using Google Hangouts A Must

Video Chat With Up to 10 People

The fundamental purpose of Google Hangouts is to give anyone the ability to video conference from their home or work computer, laptop, or smartphone without buying any specialized equipment. Hangouts allows up to 10 people to participate in a single group chat session, making it easy for a far-flung family or work team to talk face-to-face and voice-to-voice in real time.

Hangouts’ video conferencing feature is hardly novel or mind-blowing; Skype, a video conferencing service with more than 30 million users, was released eight years before Hangouts was and supports up to 25 people in a single conference call. However, the way in which Hangouts’ video conferencing combines with its other features is causing many Skype proponents to switch. Read on to find out what these features are.

Collaborative Video Conferencing

The video conferencing needs of business people, students, and other collaboration-intensive fields often includes the sharing of documents. This need can easily be fulfilled with the Hangouts feature, as it seamlessly incorporates the applications found on the increasingly popular Google Drive. Hangouts allows users to open, view, and edit a document, spreadsheet, or presentation in real time, all while keeping the basic video chat function running.

Stream Webinars Live on YouTube

A recently introduced feature called “Hangouts On-Air” gives any user over the age of 18 the ability to broadcast their Hangout live. Simply pressing the “ON AIR” button after a Hangout has been started will allow people in your Google + circles and any of YouTube’s 800 million unique monthly users to watch it. These live videos can also be embedded on websites.

The ease with which you can communicate to the world via the “On-Air” feature makes it an acceptable substitute for GoToMeeting and other webinar applications. Organizations that want to communicate to more than 1,000 people at a time, the viewer cap that GoToMeeting has in place, should strongly consider switching to Google Hangouts.

Easy Posting to YouTube

Hangouts can be uploaded to YouTube with ease as soon as users are finished recording them. Important webinars or meetings conducted through Hangouts can thus be shared with potential clients and unavailable co-workers on the world’s most popular video hosting platform, making these videos easy to access for later reference.

Why Google Hangouts are Ideal for Businesses

Hangouts are useful for more than just entertainment and socializing; they have many practical business applications as well.

No Installation Required

Most video conferencing and webinar programs, like Skype and GoToMeeting, require users to have them installed on their computers before the programs can be used. This can be be prohibitive, as even the small time and effort investments installing such programs requires may dissuade potential video conferencing attendees from showing up.

Google Hangouts removes the installation prerequisite problem by only requiring a Google account and internet access. This means it takes only a couple of minutes for the more than 425 million Gmail users to log in to their account and go to their Google Plus profile (even if it has not been set up) in order to join a Hangout.

Simple, Free Collaboration

Google Hangouts allows co-workers located anywhere in the world to video chat, share images and YouTube videos, and view and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in real time. Best of all, every task mentioned above can be accomplished in a single tab on a single browser. No other suite of applications makes collaboration this easy.

Gone are the days of lengthy email threads, awkward conference calls, and the opening, saving, and sending of an endless stream of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Hangouts allows workers to be more productive with less hassle – all at no cost.

Expansive Reach

Hangouts make it easy for businesses to connect with people and organizations that they have no preexisting relationship with. Skype and other video conferencing applications rely on users being connected before their conference begins, but it is not required for YouTube users to have even heard of your business before they stumble across and attend your Hangout. Daria Musk, the aforementioned aspiring musician turned star, can corroborate the fact that a “Hangout On-Air” can attract thousands of new viewers as it is being broadcasted.


Andy Fulton is a community manager for RealEstate.com. He has more than three years of experience with blogging, outreach, and managing social media accounts for a handful of companies and non-profit organizations in the Seattle area and enjoys soccer, biking and writing.

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