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A few weeks ago when I fell in love with Turntable.fm, 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.