Google+ may have gotten its initial popularity as the social network that tried to beat Facebook, but then if one spends more time browsing through the experience offered via features and services offered on the platform, ones orientation may change – except you are a Facebook fanatic. Google+ launched June 28, 2011 on an invite-only basis and then it was made available to the public September 20, 2011. The social network now boasts of over 40 million active users is one to watch out for.
So what is on offer from Google Inc in this new package called Google+? The traditional messenger can be seen, but others include: Circles, Instant Upload, Sparks, Stream, Games, +1 Button, Search in Google+, Hashtags, What’s hot stream, Ripples, Creative Kit, Google+ Pages, and probably the coolest feature – The Google Hangout. This review is about the last feature. For more on the other features you may want to start your journey from Google Search.
The Hangouts feature works like an environment to have group video chat with up to 10 people participating concurrently. It even allows, anyone on the web join in, as long as they have a unique URL of the Hangout. The screen switching attribute is cool too as it makes provision for the main speaker to take the big screen where there are more than 2 participant. Users can also view a YouTube video together and see reactions.
Although, I came across the hangout feature way back in July, I had not seen it in action [especially in Nigeria], until I stopped by Co-Creation Hub, November 17th, 2011. It was a Google+ Hangout with Nigerian ICT Advocate, Gbenga Sesan moderating. It was quite impressive as we had people from Kenya’s iHub and South Africa’s Umbono Tech Hub.
As for the quality of the hangout, 6 out of 10 should be fair, as there were a number of technical glitches and disconnection from participants, but this may not be attributed to Google but the ISPs where participants checked-in from. I make this assumption on the basis that I later tried having a Google+ hangout later that night with a friend in the Netherlands and a – 5 out of 10 – rating is what I got.
I decided to connect with this friend with Google+ instead of Skype and we both agreed to go back to Skype. Perhaps because Skype is a familiar terrain (Facebook banking on the familiarity factor over Google+ is somewhat a similar comparison) but more importantly it functioned better on low-speed internet as compared to the Google+ hangout.
It was quite tricky setting up the voice and video options too as compared to Skype but when all things got into place; it was a smooth ride until the ISP went down-serving with ‘em packets. So as far as user experience is concerned, two things play a major role: Familiarity of Environment (it will take some time to feel comfortable in the hangout area), and ISPs (nothing much to do about that – is there?)
Although it was predicated that Hangout will break out of Google+ to become a stand-alone product to compete with Skype and other video-chat services, it has not yet happen. If you asked to choose between the two, I may be forced to go with Google+ after seeing it in action a few weeks ago, but as I earlier said it will take some getting used to.
What is Skype doing about this speculation? Well, perhaps the question should be directed to Microsoft since it acquired Skype. Even though a sense of rivalry exists between Google and Microsoft, it may not be as bad as that between Apple and Samsung, but if Google+ hangout breaks out to be a stand-alone product, Skype(Microsoft) will have to brace up to secure market shares.
Off from business and back to techie talk: If you have not tried Google+ hangout and other feature, I strongly recommend you do today. All you need is an email on Google mail service, i.e. Gmail and you are good to go. Do not forget to have a webcam (video) and a pc-mic (audio) as you will need it for the hangout – don’t bother if you don’t have both.