Have you checked your local gasoline prices lately? It is not pretty, is it? The writing is on the wall, and it does not appear anywhere in the world that we will return to cheap gasoline anytime soon. With gas prices approaching $5 per gallon here in SoCal, few are inclined to do much driving unless they have to.
Gas prices affect everything else we do, and everything we buy because fuel is a constant cost of doing business, and you better know those costs are being passed along to you as well. Food, health care, you name it. The prices go up when the cost of delivering both goods and services are passed along to the consumer.
If you had a technology that made many of the costs of doing business a lot less expensive, would you use it? If you could speak to anyone in the world, any time you wanted to do so, would you sign up? What if you could literally witness events, conduct business, meet with loved ones, or reach out to people with similar or divergent interests, would you be interested?
What if you are a singer, or a chef, or a consultant, or even a politician, and you want not just to get the word out, but you want a dialog in real time without filter, what would you say?
What if I told you it was 100% free of charge? That’s right, I did not say “cheap” or “inexpensive”, I said F-R-E-E, free AND no usage limit! In the past week, I have held business meetings with current and prospective clients over this technology. I sat on discussion panels, and spoken with friends and loved ones thousands of miles away, in real time, on live video.
Three days ago, I took a tour of a woman’s home in Switzerland, and within the same session went for a ride at night along a highway in the Ukraine next to the Black Sea, with the man beaming the road ahead from his passenger seat while connected to us on his phone. The next day, I conducted one of many live and open “town hall” meetings for a great friend of mine running for higher office in British Columbia. Each of these events cost me nothing, because all of them occurred within a Google+ Hangout.
Back in the early days of video teleconferencing, there were so many problems to overcome, that these solutions tended to be very expensive since they required professional installation. Connected over either a sucky ISDN or an expensive T-1, video teleconferencing at times proved more trouble than it was worth. I remember thinking after the first teleconference I conducted back in the 90s, that I would rather hassle with SeaTac and a long flight, then deal with that hassle again.
“Can you hear me? I can’t hear you...”
Skype and other solutions ushered in a world of desktop telecommunications and for a while, it was a wonderful thing, if not a solution where if you were not careful, could grow to be very expensive in a very short amount of time. However, these solutions were anything but reliable, and they were not distributed well enough to know that anyone could access them anywhere, anytime. Desktop teleconferencing remained a niche player, and not a true enhancer of productivity.
All forms of broadcast video, whether from a satellite, over the air or to your desktop has huge bandwidth requirements. While Skype and other videoconferencing solutions existed over whichever internet/intranet bandwidth was available, and with mixed results, Google was busily buying up “Dark Fiber” (long distance fiber-optic cable installations that were not being used) all over the world. Articles were written like this one way back in 2007: “What’s Google Doing with All That Dark Fiber?” Speculation abounded, suggesting Google was building their own Internet. What they were doing was connecting their various datacenters around the world to create the fastest possible connectivity backbone.
Google + users do not connect to each other through the dozens of router hops required by most of the Internet. Google users connect to their closest Google datacenter, and then the synchronization of all of Google’s services take place over the fiber, making it possible to have real-time videoconferencing with up to 10 persons at a time from not only their desktops, but their cell phones as well.
Google expects to increase the number of persons that can attend a hangout steadily over time. Even now, Google is performing load and bandwidth testing to determine just how far this technology will take them.
One ingenious feature of Hangouts is the new “Hangouts on the Air” technology, which gets around the 10-person limitation and live streams the hangout to an unlimited online audience, which can interact with the 10 people through comments and questions that appear in the Hangout chat window.
The implications of Hangouts and HOA are seemingly limitless. From the very first day that I arrived on Google +, I have not used Skype at all. In January this year, I received a notice from Skype that since I had not used my account in 180 days, it would become inactive. The combination of Google + Hangouts and Google Voice, have resulted in the ability for me to conduct more than 90% of my business communications completely free of charge, more ‘face to face’ than ever before while saving me hundreds of dollars each month.
Google + Hangouts have enabled businesses to perform direct and open communication with an audience of their choice whenever they wish, or gather an worldwide audience to events like maybe a concert, a cooking class, a technology discussion panel, training or whatever you want.
One of the most interesting things my business is doing, is acting as host of a form of “Town Hall Meeting” through Hangouts where local and national politicians have met with audiences of concerned citizens to discuss issues of the day. If you are a Canadian Citizen, how would you like to sit down and discuss your thoughts about how government revenue is being spent in your community with a member of your City Council? The citizens of Prince George, British Columbia can do just that. One of the first Politicians to see the implications of Hangouts and take full advantage is Councillor Garth Frizzell of Prince George B.C. He was the first elected official in Canada to use Hangouts to reach out directly to concerned citizens to have meaningful discussions about issues which affect communities in both English and French. Participants join in from the convenience and comfort of their homes or wherever they happen to be.
To date; Garth has connected with just under 500 concerned Canadians, who were able to share their concerns, real-time, unfiltered and unedited with discussions ranging from Potholes to Green Technologies. Garth has invited fellow politicians to join him, beginning with another city Councillor Scott Elliott. The effectiveness of Frizzell’s use of Hangouts has not gone unnoticed, and Garth has now gone national, conducting Hangouts with members of the Canadian Parliament. First up was MP Dan Albas to discuss his bill C-311, amending the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. Followed by MP Joyce Murray, who on a visit to Prince George, joined Garth in a Hangout with local citizens to talk about Small Business, Tourism, the Energy Sector, and the Environment in a no-holds barred dialog with Google + users in Canada.
Frizzell recently commented about Google + Hangouts:
"Politics is always changing, but with the arrival of the web, citizens now expect responses from their elected officials faster than ever before, and it is our job to listen and respond. On a Friday before a Monday council meeting, I will receive emails from concerned citizens, and if I haven't responded by Saturday morning, they will be concerned that time is ticking, and their voices will not be heard before the decision on Monday night. THAT is why the Google+ technology is so effective. I can discuss an issue with 9 people at a time. I can listen. I can respond. ... and I can bring in experts to answer the questions I can't. The challenge that has arisen since the web became ubiquitous has been that the public's expectations have risen beyond the capacity of 20th century technology. Google+ hangouts help solve 21st century problems.” – Councillor Garth Frizzell
Have you heard of the “HIRL”? It is short for “Hangout in Real Life”, where people who have first met through Hangouts arrange actual face-to-face meetings in specific locations. Hangouts have been responsible for some amazing encounters, from fundraising for various illnesses, to people around the world starting businesses together that would otherwise be impossible.
Google+ Hangouts represent one of those technologies that quickly go from first use, to everyday use, to being indispensable in conducting affairs among people separated by location, and with HOA, by time. Anyone who misses a live hangout can simply watch the proceedings later on YouTube and miss nothing. Hangouts allow for screen sharing, allowing anyone to exchange their video image with their phone or computer desktop, or various open windows. Persons with G+ Brand pages can conduct a hangout through their personal account, and use their Brand account to run a slide show from another computer.
KOMU 8 News in Columbia, MO pioneered the use of Hangouts live during their TV broadcasts, inviting members of the Google + audience to participate in their newscasts, commenting about stories of the day and more. Sarah Hill, KOMU Anchorwoman, realized the potential of Hangouts during the closed beta, was inviting people to join her on set via hangouts before Google + was a public social media destination.
Sarah Hill on Google+ Hangouts:
"Hangouts are a free satellite truck in the middle of a crowd sourcing tool that could transform live news coverage to bring in multiple views from a breaking news event. Hangouts also have the ability to connect a journalist face to face with their audience. Because of the global nature of this platform, this technology is a magic carpet that can take you around the world in a matter of minutes. I wear two ear pieces. One for my producer and one to hear my Hangout. For the first time, it's as if the viewer has left the living room and they are sitting right next to me on the news set. When I read a story, I hear the audience's reactions instantaneously in my ear. It's fascinating for a broadcaster to be able to get that kind of real time feedback on a news story. I'm told it's also fascinating for a viewer to be able to talk to their local news anchor during a live newscast. There's great value in connecting with people face to face. My hope is in the future, people won't just say... oh, I watch Sarah Hill. They'll say..... I know her.”
One of the wonderful things about Hangouts is that they are so user friendly. I have personally shown at least three persons in their mid-80’s how to create and host hangouts of their own, including my future father-in–law who surprised me one morning with a hangout invite of his own.
Developers are using the Hangouts API to extend the value and functionality of hangouts, one of them being the “lower-third” graphics seen in some of this article’s images. Google has fully realized what those first considering the promise of video teleconferencing originally envisioned. Grandparents can now see their grandchildren anytime, from anywhere, free of charge, needing only a Google account and a registration on Google +. Businesses are already performing personalized customer service in Hangouts, with new ideas forming all the time on how to take advantage of this platform to better serve customers and clients.
The impact on the Transportation industry is more than obvious.
Google + Hangouts represent the first true easy-to-use, easily distributed videoconferencing application; your only requirement being a computer equipped with a web cam, or a 2012 era smartphone. Hangouts represent salvation from airports, flight delays, missing luggage and having to be offline through the duration of your flight, with email piling up, and you out of contact with your staff. Hangouts have simply replaced the need in many cases to appear in person in order to do business. Hangouts will replace many specialized tools with the same goals, but poor implementation, or ahead of their time with respect to bandwidth and availability of services.
Google + Hangouts are not just this year’s Killer App for Social Media, but for the entire Internet.
Google + Hangouts are not just this year’s Killer App for Social Media, it offers a tangible solution to reducing many costs of doing business and enabling new innovations, which could in-part alleviate the pressure of skyrocketing Communication and Travel prices to consumers, and that fact alone makes Google Hangouts the first Economic Killer Application.