Last night I had my first experience with Google+ Hangout, the video chat feature that allows up to 10 people to talk simultaneously. Bradley Horowitz (pictured below in the big window) announced a public Hangout and very quickly the room filled up. People were waiting in line to get in.
Sergey Hung Out
Though it’s not captured in the screenshot below Google co-founder Sergey Brin was briefly part of it (from his kitchen) as well as a guy from Facebook, who awkwardly exited after a few minutes.
Danny was present for about 10 minutes too, complaining that Google+ had kept him from taking a shower yesterday. Ben Parr of Mashable and Jason Kinkaid of TechCrunch are pictured along with me and a number of others in the bar below Horowitz.
Enterprise Potential Obvious
We had a fruitful conversation with Horowitz about the launch so far and Hangout in particular. Though not without a few kinks and quirks, and missing a few features, almost immediately Hangout has become (for me) the “marquee feature” of Google+. Some people are also very taken with the Android app as well and prefer it to the PC experience. I agree that Google has done a nice job.
However the enterprise and general social value of Hangout are self-evident. And as Google+ opens up and gains more users we’ll see it widely adopted. (One could imagine a scenario where Hangout, with some tweaks, could replace GoToMeeting and WebEx for many use cases.)
Someone in the room suggested lifting the 10-person limit. It could then be used for webinars and other sorts of meetings with more than 10 attendees (probably would be a premium feature). You can also watch what’s happening on YouTube if you’re in a Hangout session.
There are lots of possibilities here that are quite intriguing. Horowitz told everyone to “think of it as a platform,” which implies third party developer involvement and many more use cases.
Facebook Will Have to Match, Skype Will Suffer
I also believe Hangout is the single feature that Facebook will be compelled to match in the relatively near future. (LinkedIn should think about it too.) Everything else Facebook already possess; although Google+’s approach to privacy is superior (if more complicated) than Facebook’s.
I also believe that Hangout could negatively impact Skype over time. Skype wants to charge for group video calling, where Hangout is free. That will probably undermine Skype’s ability to generate revenue from group video calling unless it bundles the capability with other features not present in Hangout.
Google+ “Has Legs”
Hangout and the mobile experience help differentiate Google+ from Facebook. In the absence of Hangout in particular (and maybe Circles’s usability and privacy controls) one could be much more dismissive of Google+. In addition, if you’re a Gmail user the notifications are always right there as well as the Google+ link on the new gray nav bar across the top of the page. These things keep Google+ “in your face” all day. That’s on top of all the email notifications if anyone comments or adds an update.
According to Vic Gundotra they’ve had to immediately throttle invitations because, in his words, “demand was insane.”
I believe that Google has created a product, this time, that has some staying power. Or, as they say in the movie business, Google+ “has legs.”
Postscript: If Hangout is opened up to third parties, one can imagine lots of sites integrating the functionality to boost community and engagement. Think of people watching video simultaneously at Netflix or Hulu or sports viewing in groups. This is not a new idea but Hangout makes it feasible. Of course I’m extrapolating from some vague comments Horowitz made last night but there are lots of possibilities along these lines.