I'm not a prognosticator. I resist invitations to predict technology trends. I never write blog posts on the top 10 ways social or digital media will impact business in the new year. It's just too volatile a space where a single innovation (e.g., Twitter) or misstep can upend the apple cart. (Go back and read the prediction posts from 2006. Nobody predicted Twitter.)
Similarly, I resisted the temptation to predict the impact Google+ would have. Despite the flood of posts claiming it was a Facebook killer, a Twitter killer, a blog killer (wasn't Twitter supposed to be a blog killer?) or a killer of anything else-along with those that predicted its swift demise or its relegation to niche status-my inclination was to join, experience and watch.
Today's announcement from Google, though, has me violating my own rule. The enhancements to Google+ Hangouts make it a genuine, bona fide game-changer.
I've already suggested that Hangouts-the social channel's video chat feature-is the only real point of differentiation on Google+. Everything else is already available elsewhere and, except for a minority of disgrunted Twitter/Facebook users, it doesn't solve a problem. (There are group video services, too, but none so drop-dead easy as Hangouts, and few deliver the goods with such stellar performance.)
Hangouts inspire innovation
As I noted in the August 22 edition of For Immediate Release, Hangouts have inspired all manner of innovation, from cooking classes to concerts, from meetings to interviews. Armed with the knowledge that Google+ field trial members were using Hangouts in ways Google never imagined, the company got to work enhancing the service. Those enhancements were announced today and make Hangouts an even more compelling resource, one that businesses just can't ignore.
Some of these improvements are available right away; others are in limited test. All of them are knockouts. Hangouts will be the most compelling reason for people to use Google+. Whether that prompts people to also use the Facebook and Twitter-like features instead of Facebook and Twitter remains to be seen.
The ability to participate in Hangouts from your phone-currently available on a just-released Android app (for phones running Android 2.3) and coming soon for the iPhone will make it easy (and free) for departments to hold meetings wherever people are. And who would use Facetime-Apple's rather lame iPhone video chat system that requires a WiFi connection-when Hangouts run like a charm over a 3G network?
Broadcast a Hangout; Share Your Screen
But Hangouts On Air and Screensharing are the two advances that business will find too tempting to pass. Hangouts on Air let you broadcast a Hangout to as many people as you like (while the limit for participation is still 10.) My podcast, FIR, includes an occasional FIR Live that's like a call-in show. With Hangouts, though, we could have up to 10 panelists in real time while anybody interested in the discussion could watch live. Since you can record a Hangout on Air, it would also be available asynchronously to those who couldn't participate in real time. (This is one of the features being tested by a slect few for now.)
With Screensharing, Google is clearly gunning for Citrix and its GoToMeeting product. While I'm sure Citrix will have a response, I'm sure a lot of companies would prefer to host a hangout for employees and share the screen at no cost than pay for a GoToMeeting subscription. Here's the screenshot Google shared of a Hangout using Screenshare:
And then there's the APIs which, according to the Google Developers blog, allow you " to develop collaborative apps that run inside of a Google+ Hangout. Hangout apps behave much like normal web apps, but with the addition of the rich, real-time functionality." Google has built some examples, like a voting app and one that lets you change your avatar to "the talking android of your choice."
(There are other enhancements, too. Read the Google announcement to get the lowdown on all of them.)
As more and more people are drawn to Hangouts, they will, of course, be exposed to the other elements of Google+. Some research has reported severe declines in publicly shared content; others have pointed to a slowdown in visits to the site. But now that Google+ is open to anyone without an invitation, and with innovation driving the uses to which Hangouts are put, it's safe to say that Google+ has staying power. Whether it will be viewed as Hangouts and some other features we don't need is open to speculation, but Hangouts are going to be huge.
Does your organization have plans to tap into Hangouts?