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Google Hangouts gives the “Alive Web” a big boost

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A few weeks ago when I fell in love with, I wrote about the emergence of a web that was alive. Driven by constant connectivity, this “Alive Web” is a web that is experienced when and if we want. It was about immersion and interactions. It was about having social connections based on an all familiar offline behavior of engagement with other humans.

On this new Alive Web, what we miss doesn’t matter. What matters is the connection and the interactions. We get online to socialize instead of posting status updates, just as we would when we would go to our favorite club or a neighborhood bar.

Last week when I first saw Google+, it became obvious that Google Hangouts was the next big killer app of the Alive Web. Jenna Wortham gets it right when she deems Hangouts as a killer feature of Google+. Having said so myself, I am not going to disagree.

Why? Because Hangouts is about having a conversation, albeit over video. It isn’t a chat (in the traditional Internet sense) and it isn’t a conference call. Hangout with folks you want to connect, even for a few seconds, enjoy an immersive interaction and then move on. It is just for hanging out — just like some of the early killer apps of the Internet such as BBS, IRC and AOL Chat Rooms. And for that precise reason, Hangouts is very different from the video chatting offered by Skype and Facebook.

Having spent nearly a day with the Facebook/Skype video chat, I have to say, that it is shockingly predictable and conventional, two words I rarely use in the context of Mark Zuckerberg’s baby. I have a theory why Facebook wasn’t daring enough with its video offering and chose the safe route — it is worried that it would distract from Facebook’s core behavior of sharing. I mean if you are all hanging out with your friends, why share photos, links or video clips or random status updates?

As I said earlier — if Google wants to beat Facebook, it would have to do social differently. It would have to circumvent Facebook’s two main behaviors — sharing and use of activity streams. In so doing, it would have to figure out a way to encourage interaction, immersion and engagement, both on web and on the mobile. Hangouts is a good start. And for the Alive Web, it’s a big boost.

Recommended reading: How Google+ Hangouts works.

15 Responses to “Google Hangouts gives the “Alive Web” a big boost”

  1. In hindsight, they could have added video chat to the current Gmail Chat button and achieved a similar effect more or less,- although video in hangout gets you a bigger crowd. I’m still sitting on the fence for Google Plus overall. The stream is too reminiscent of FriendFeed and can get really busy with 400 comments on some posts. Social media is sucking up way too much time from us.

  2. Not having been blessed yet with a G+ invite, I am wondering if ‘hangout’ can be directed using ‘circles’.
    I mean – can I open a ‘hangout’ which only my ‘friends’ circle sees?
    Or is my wacky uncle Gus going to possibly drop in and discuss his favorite topic of us faking the moon landing with my boss, a good friend, and somebody I take a class with?

    Another slight problem with hangouts is what goes on. When you actually visit friends you don’t always just sit and stare at each other. I know you can cruise youtube together and I suppose that will be the answer. But what many people actually do is play music. And I am betting that about a gajillion laws would be broken if you attempted to play music over your chat to friends for illegally streaming the songs and whatnot. Because, you know, the music mafia is like that.

  3. I agree that it’s a cool feature and useful to working groups, educators and students and the like. But for hanging out with friends (ie, social) I struggle to see how coordinating 5 to 10 peeps to get together for a “chat” is going to be any easier to do than schedule a meeting at work, agendas out everyone, are we all free at 11? 1:30? 4ish? How about tomorrow morning at 6 am?

    • Eric

      There is no coordination required in Hangouts. Think of it this way -when you let your friends know that you are going to say a bar and see them there. Some of them show up, some of them don’t and the evening goes on. Google Hangouts is based on precisely that behavior. If you happen to be online join the party, if not, then don’t.

      • I understand what you’re saying OM and I think that will work for a subset of social media people but given your description above I don’t think its the killer feature over Facebook that it’s touted. Thinking over the people who I know on Facebook the metaphor of who ever shows up at the pub wouldn’t work for them. But time will tell, I don’t have a horse in this race except the board of directors of my biz will probably use it instead of F to F meetings at times.

      • I think this is spot on Om. It’s not a conference call – my impression is that other can join mid-hangout. If it’s like other implementations I’ve seen, conversations will quickly balloon into fun little events. A smiling, interactive human face is a lot more “addictive” than any blog, status update or picture – especially when decoupled from the pressure of one-on-one interaction.

        I’ve seen groups of basically-anonymous strangers having a great time with these things on sites like – combining this with one’s existing network of friends is going to indeed be a pivotal moment for the internet.

    • karthiq

      Its not a killer feature of facebook, it is the killer feature of skype(on facebook?).And a huge cut on facebook.As om previously said that facebook can only be killed by a thousand cuts :-).Well this is a huge cut and maybe a few more huge cuts like these can kill it too.

  4. “I mean if you are all hanging out with your friends, why share photos, links or video clips or random status updates?”
    Om, good article but I really don’t see any reason why ppl stopped sharing their photos, links, video clips or status updates after they got video conference feature. It is the same when I say that google voice search will kill other search engines. There are many situations when ppl just can’t communicate verbally (work place, bathroom), public transport etc).
    Sharing photos is shoving vivid moments of ur live, sharing links is showing ur interests to all ur friends who are currently not online for example etc. So, Google’s new feature is good but saying that it leads to decreasing ppl activity in other areas of SN doesn’t have any grounds

    • Andrey

      Normally you share things with people mostly to give them a peek into your life. What if you get to talk about a lot of things almost instantaneously things are a lot different and you ended up sharing only a handful of things – special things. I think that is a common offline behavior and it wouldn’t surprise me with the right tools we all gravitate towards that.

      Also remember, the time spent on video communications is time spent sharing other things.

  5. At least next time we’ll know what Zuckerberg means by awesome = “shockingly predictable and conventional”.

    I was very surprised to see that every blog was including “awesome product” in their headline, even though they had no idea what it will be, or how good it will be. It reminded me of Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field – everyone repeating everything after him, except this time they were doing it for Zuckerberg. I think it was misleading to their readers, and most likely done as linkbait.

    I don’t see how Skype integration can help Facebook that much. Video chatting has existed in IM’s for the past 5 years or so. Most people don’t use it because it’s a little awkward to have a video-chat between 2 people, especially when they are busy doing something else at the computer as well.

    With Hangout you don’t have to talk all the time, and the camera is not “always” on you. Plus, it is a lot more social, and it even has an element of serendipity – randomly meeting friends of friends, and so on. It feels like going out and meeting new people through your friends. Hangout has a very different use case than Skype, and it will be a lot more popular, too.

    I’d love to see Google buy Hulu, make it international, and allow for people to watch a show in the same time. They could also integrate Google Music in a way that works like I think Google should more focus on this idea of being social in a group, rather than one on one, and come out with more features that reflect this.

  6. From what I can gather, Zuckerberg’s ‘awesome’ was that this was a collaboration. He’s convinced the next big thing is third party social apps… he think social has reached saturation, and should now be seen as a ubiquitous platform on which to build.