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The Comprehensive(ish) Guide to Google Hangouts

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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Skype and Google+ and GoToMeeting, oh my!

With the wealth of video-conferencing-esque applications out there, it can be difficult to know which one to choose.

So, in a brief flurry of tyranny that may just cause the Founding Fathers (dedicated as they were to freedom and choice and the like) to roll over in their graves, we’re gonna just go ahead and make that decision for you: Google+ Hangouts.

So there it is. Now you can worry less about that particular choice and go back to worrying about more important decisions like careers and elections and which Doctor you prefer in the spectrum of Doctor Who. (I’m a Nine/Ten girl personally).

But seriously, kids…

All joking aside, Google+ Hangouts are pretty excellent for their sheer versatility. They allow you a number of different audiences and outlets and fun! fancy! features!

Google+ Hangouts can be public or private, they can be an ephemeral experience or eternally immortalized on YouTube, they can be posted on your website or your Google+ profile, and, if you really, really want, they can make you a pirate.

No lie.

Sounds exciting but kinda vague, right?

So here’s the vital stats: Google Hangout is a tool that allows you to bring up to 10 people (yourself, as the host, included) into a video conference space. You have the option of making it an invite-only party or throwing wide the gates and drawing in the first 9 people interested in participating in your intriguingly-named discussion. Or somewhere in between, really.

These meet-ups can go as long as someone is interested. (Even if the host leaves, everyone else can carry on. So you can use it for a three-minute screenshare (yeah, did we mention screenshares?) or for a virtual filibuster.

(Athough, like a filibuster, proof of life is required. You’ll get prodded to check for continued existence every two and a half hours. Which is, frankly, a longer break than Jimmy Stewart got).

(Okay, my undying admiration and respect would go to anyone who re-enacts famous filibusters on Google Hangouts. Any takers?)

If, at the outset, you decide you want a record of your glorious gathering, all you have to do is check a little box that says “Enable Hangouts on Air” and you can record the thing and embed it on your site or YouTube for the benefit of generations immemorial.
Nifty, no?

Of course, there’s all kinds of tips and tricks that are best discovered by fiddling (though we’ll fill you in on a few as we get into the details. After all, we promised you piratehood, right?)

The only catch is that you have to have a Google+ account. And so does everyone you want to join in. Which is, honestly, not that bad. They’re free, after all. And besides, it’s not just engineers anymore. All the cool kids are joining Google+.

General Usefulness of Google+ Hangouts

There are as many uses for Google+ Hangouts as your imagination can, uh, imagine:

  • bringing together your friends or family from various corners of the globe for video chats
  • setting up introductions for people from different offices
  • any kind of business-related video conferencing (in fact, they’ve integrated hangouts with Gmail and Google Calendar, allowing you to organize and schedule the meetings directly from those forums, and Google Docs, so that you can open and screenshare this stuff in a hangout)
  • webinars
  • pirate reunions (have patience, we’ll get there)
  • filibuster re-enactments (hint, hint)…

Our community manager June likes to hang out with others in the same position and share tips and tricks and general commiseration over their lot in life.

Seriously, give it some thought, play around with it, see what other uses you can come up with.

How the story goes: hanging out on Google

It’s your basic plot: Boy (or Girl) meets social media outlet. Boy (or Girl) discovers all the wonder facets said social media outlet has to offer (including that elusive promise of pirates).

Boy/Girl falls in love with social media outlet. Boy/Girl uses social media outlet to make lots of new friends and accomplish all kinds of tasks. Boy/Girl loses interest in other social media outlets.

Boy/Girl and social media outlet live happily ever after.

At some point, they may get caught in an elevator together.

But here’s the prologue, before this epic tale of adoration begins…Boy/Girl gets a webcam.

We know, we know. It seems self-evident. But sometimes you gotta just be blunt: Hangouts is a video-conferencing application. Video conferencing requires video capability. Video capability = web cam. Ta da!

Thus endeth the prologue and now the story begins. It starts like this:

1. Set up your Google+ account
As previously mentioned, you have to set up your Google+ account. (If you’ve already got a Gmail or some other Google account this is just an add on to that. If you don’t…well, that’s where you start instead).

2. Optimize your profile
Depending on your temperament, this may seem like either a “duh” or a waste of time. Regardless of your personal philosophy, do it anyway. It’s for your own good. Also, it allows you to make full use of all the possibilities Google+ holds.

3. Download the plugin
When you’re all set with that and ready to start hanging out, download the hangout plugin.

TIP: on Macs, at least, once you download, you still have to manually start the application from the download menu. Otherwise, you’re gonna be staring at your computer for 10 minutes, wondering what’s taking so long. Not that anything like that happened to us, supremely knowledgeable beings that we are.

4. Get to hangin’ out
When you’ve got the right tools, you have a coupla options. You can initiate your own hangout, join a public hangout, or respond to a hangout invitation.

a. Initiating Your Own: In approximately 30 kajillion places on your Google+ there is a “Start a Hangout” button.

Click it. It will take you to a screen that allows you to either invite specific people, make your hangout accessible just to your circles, or make your hangout public.

Then you must name your hangout. Not like Angus or Arthur or Winifred. Something that will clue people into what kind of hangout you’re hosting. Word to the wise: This name is publicly visible. Keep it clean, friends.

It is on this same blessed screen that you get the option of enabling your Google Air (we’ll talk about that in a minute) and starting your online legacy and changing your Options to restrict minors or set a preferred language.

b. Joining a Public Hangout:
In the left column of your Google+ profile, there is a Hangouts icon. Click on it and it will show you a selection of current public hangouts, old Google Air hangouts to watch, and featured hangouts.

c. Responding to a Hangout Invitation:
This is the simplest. Once you’re all set up with the plugin, you should get a chat-like window and an audible alert informing you of the invitation. Hit the “Join Hangout” button and, voila! You’re there.

Basic Rules and Etiquette of Hangouts

(to keep Miss Manners from joining your circles for the sole purpose of smacking you down)

There are a few guidelines for making sure that your hangout works well for everyone and some things to keep in mind as you go:

1. There’s a cap on this party
10 people. That’s it. You want more than that, well, at the moment, you can’t. Who knows if change is forthcoming, but we’re not there yet.

2. You’ll have to be your own bouncer
Unlike standard party behavior, you cannot kick people off your public hangout. Even if you’re the host. (However, it is still your party and you can, of course, cry if you want to). Now, if they leave of their own free will, you can replace them with someone new. But do it quickly, because they can re-enter the hangout for as long as the spot is open.

3. Don’t interrupt; chat instead
There is a pretty nifty simultaneous chat function that allows you to interrupt without actually interrupting.

Okay…that might require some explanation. As in any gathering, you have to read the mood of a hangout. There might be one that’s an actual panel conversation or there might be one that’s more of a lecture, with one person talking and everybody else listening.

Should you find yourself in a hangout more closely resembling the latter, you can, at anytime, chat a question or comment to the attendants, allowing your issue to be raised at the convenience of the moderator. Courtesy above all things, of course.

4. Use the mute button
Be prepared for liberal use of the mute button. A thumbnail array of all participants appears at the bottom but the main display tries to keep up with the conversation and show whoever is talking at any given moment.

Be kind to the poor, hapless piece of software: if someone else is talking, click on the microphone at the top to mute yourself. This prevents any background noise – phones ringing, chips crunching, beverage slurping (not that we’ve ever been uncouth enough for such behavior) – from registering as actual contributions to the conversation.

You can also mute someone else by hovering over their image. (This is best used in case someone gets called away unmuted and, while they’re gone, a rouge herd of llamas starts kicking up cacophony in their location, drowning out what the rest of of you are trying to say).

Don’t just do it because somebody’s opinion (or voice) bugs you, ‘cuz everybody can see who you’ve muted in the chat. And then…the shame. And also, Miss Manners. Descending upon you with an elegantly-phrased reprimand.

If you’re not gonna mute, at least turn your sound down. This, at the very least, prevents everyone from hearing you breathe, Vader.

5. Check your lighting
Be aware of your lighting. Unless you’re going for the Deep Throat / Shadowman look on purpose, make sure you’re neither too much in the dark nor backlit.

Light as Air

So, Air is the Hangout interface with YouTube. It allows you to post either private or public hangouts on your You Tube Channel.

Of course, that means you need to have a YouTube account in the first place. So, go take care of that. Once that’s done:

1. Enable Hangouts Air on your (possibly new) YouTube Account.

2. Start the one-time verification process on that nifty set up page from earlier.

3. YouTube will ask for you a mobile device number so it can text you the verification code.

4. Once you receive the code, enter it into the provided box and press “Verify”.

And there’s that done.

Other Apps. Aaargh!

As we all know, Google is constantly fiddling and enhancing. They’ve already got a number of games and tools and the like that can be added onto your Hangouts.

But the easiest by far to use is Google Effects. It’s a rather silly little thing that allows you to add costuming and props to your screen appearance in the hangout.

TIP: Make sure you’re framed correctly if you want the assortment of hats and glasses and mustaches to show up. Too close to the screen and they’ll hover weirdly out-of-frame.

And thus, we leave you, as promised, with the means to join our Brotherhood of Pirates:

So avast, mateys! Try out Google+ Hangouts for yourself and let us know what new tricks and uses you’ve discovered.

Shiver me timbers. Etc.


Author Courtney Brown

More posts by Courtney Brown

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • […] not only because it integrates with search, but also because of the tools it offers. You can use Google+ hangouts to maintain contact up close and personal with industry friends or even clients. You can easily […]

  • gary says:


    Good writeup on hangouts. Got a few questions that I cant find answers for… hope you can help:

    1. Can I schedule a hangout ahead of time?
    2. Why are many of my people reporting that they do not get the hangout invitations I send time… or they get them only after several attempts?
    3. Can the hangout URL be used again?

    Thanks for your help.

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