I have become increasingly impressed with Google+ as a platform. However, since not many of my friends are Google+ users, I have not extensively utilized the service. For the past year or so I have had only a passing familiarity with its Hangout feature. I had seen a video or two and even had some non-technical people recommend it to me. Since there did not seem to be a ton of interest among my friends I did not bother actually trying it until last night. The future continues to amaze me.
The hangout worked almost flawlessly. I logged in at the designated time, chose to join, and immediately I was greeted with some familiar faces. The default mode puts the individual who is speaking onto the big screen and you have little screens for all the other participants. It smartly switches when it detects audio from a speaker. I later learned that you can select a video stream to lock it into the large screen. One nice subtlety that the software appears to be able to detect and eliminate feedback if you use regular speakers instead of headphones. The software also gracefully handled bandwidth drops and other problems. I dropped in and out of the hangout without causing any hard crashes.
Google also baked a potpourri of useful features into the hangout software. Lon Seidman, who gracefully initiated me and other attorneys into this new world, was able to share his screen with us and the clarity of the image was impressive. Furthermore you are able to add things like a bar at the bottom of the screen with your name and twitter handle. There is a chat feature on the side and you are able to selectively mute participants or have people join the hangout over the telephone via Google Voice. The killer function is Hangout on Air which allows you to live stream your hangout and then have it automatically saved to YouTube. This makes it easy to create video podcasts.
Many thanks to Lon Seidman (and Doug Hardy) who showed me and the others the ropes. Also it was neat to finally see some of the other Connecticut attorneys I’ve been speaking with on twitter. So check out Meghan and Ryan at A Connecticut Law Blog and Daniel Schwartz at The Connecticut Employment Law Blog.
Finally, if you are interested in seeing a hangout, President Obama is holding one on Thursday to answer questions related to the State of the Union speech.