Google’s new social networking service, Google+, is off to a good start, although it still is nowhere near to challenging Facebook for networking supremacy. The way Google intends to usurp Facebook will be by offering what Facebook does not. It is difficult to make people switch services if they are already having their networking needs, and the need for entertainment through games, met by another service in which most of the people they already know use. Social networking services are only as good as the number of people you can connect with, and Google+ can only shine if people start using it.
One of the services in which Google+ outshines Facebook is its chat feature, called Hangouts. More than a simple text chat, Hangouts is an actual, fully fledged video chatting system that outshines even the more popular Skype. Hangouts reaches farther than Facebook chat or Skype in that it allows, for free, up to 15 people to all chat at once! Those who are in the chat room have their profile pictures displayed in a row above or below the main video window, and whoever is speaking at the moment, their video will come up to the main screen, and everyone can hear. Naturally some “netiquette” is needed to keep everyone from talking at once and causing feedback, but on the whole, the service is fairly sound.
The application for mobile phones just hit the markets for both Android and iOS only a few weeks ago and has proven to be a very neat way of video chatting while on the go. Users can toggle between the various front and back cameras on their phones, and the application will alert you if someone else enters the chat. The Hangout feature is built into the most recent release of Google+ for Android, and it’s free.
This feature has already been put to good use for meetings in need of video conferencing in business, for families keeping in touch over long distances, for virtual book club discussions, and for groups to meet and discuss a number of various topics face to face. The mobile version of Hangouts is limited from the desktop version, however, in that the chat window for text is absent, making it difficult to get links posted to the chat by others who want to show things like Flickr photos or a webpage they want to share with everyone. It also does not yet work with the program Tabletop Forge, a Hangouts add on that allows users to engage in Dungeons and Dragons-type role-playing games virtually. For these things, users must be on a desktop.
Still, if you need to stay in touch with your mobile phone, especially if your mom wants to see what the kids are doing when you’re out and about, the mobile Google+ Hangouts is proving to be a very cool, and free, feature to have on your Android.