Blog Post

How Google’s Hangouts API could change social video

One of the hidden gems of Tuesday’s Google+ update is the Hangouts API, which allows third-party developers to build apps for the group video chat platform.

Developers will, for instance, be able to integrate videos from sites like Vimeo (s IACI) into Hangouts and allow users to watch them simultaneously. This could not only be a big boost for Hangouts and Google+, (s GOOG) but also take social video watching online to the next level.

The API was announced on the Google+ platform blog:

“Today we’re launching the Developer Preview of the Hangouts API, another small piece of the Google+ platform. It enables you to add your own experiences to Hangouts and instantly build real-time applications, just like our first application, the built-in YouTube player.”

The current developer preview limits access to apps to a pre-defined group of users, and a few first examples include simple apps like a voting gadget. However, one only has to take a closer look at the built-in YouTube player to get a sense of how powerful this API can be. The player synchronizes YouTube videos, making it possible to watch clips with friends while also video chatting with them. If a user skips to the next video, that action is automatically relayed to the other participants.

Of course, the same functionality could also be utilized by other video platforms, or even by third-party developers who could make use of publicly available APIs to show videos from sites like Vimeo within Hangouts. Asked about this in a Google+ comment thread today, Hangouts API Product Lead Amit Fulay said: “Yes, you can write an app for Vimeo videos.” He added that apps have to comply with the Google+ developers terms of service, which forbid the use of some types of content.

The implications of this are pretty profound. I’ve long argued that Hangouts could take social interaction around online video to the next level by allowing users to talk to each other in real time, just as you would with family and friends in your living room. The Hangouts API now makes this possible for a wide range of video services, which could bring live sports streams hosted on Ustream or similar sites, or even TV content from sites like Hulu to Hangouts.

Of course, services would have to agree to work within the Google+ framework, but that shouldn’t be a show-stopper for many. Facebook is expected to launch social video integration with Hulu and other partners on Thursday, and it would only make sense for video platforms to embrace Google+ as well.

6 Responses to “How Google’s Hangouts API could change social video”

  1. Why would multiple video and audio be a problem? Since you can always watch tv and talk to another person….we are more than capable of multitasking or in this case sharing and discussing a video together.

  2. Realtime video has all the buzz but the first service that actually allows people to leave recorded video messages for each other will discover that non-realtime will actually be a lot more useful to people.

    It is like the way that chat is cool, but email is essential. Needing both parties to be present at the same time is actually a limitation.

      • Seesmic’s implementation of video comments completely missed the point and a discussion I happened to have with Loic at that time convinced me that the guy simply had no conception of the hit he could have on his hands with just a few tweaks.

        To make a Seesmic video comment, you had to first either be logged into the blog in question or, if making a guest comment, enter your name and email address. Then you had to fill in an uncomfortably small registration form within the Flash widget to sign up to Seesmic. Then you had to read an Adobe Flash security page asking if you gave permission for that site to access your webcam. Then you had to press Record and, when you were done, Stop. Then you had to decide whether or not to press Send. Then you had to press Submit to publish the actual blog post containing the video.

        If you are trying to get the idea of video comments to gain acceptance, particularly when so many people are initially shy, it is beyond dumb to put so many additional barriers in the path of potential users.

        What was needed was one BIG RED BUTTON. The Adobe security page is unavoidable but, once the user has clicked yes to that, the recording should just start and continue until the user presses Stop. Pressing Send should simultaneously submit the WordPress comment field that contains the video. Pressing the BRB again at any point would allow the user to re-record their message.

        Asking users to sign up to yet another service in the middle of this process was madness, killing off whatever chance the concept had of catching fire. The success of vlogging on YouTube proves that the opportunity was there but Loic was so fixated on the need to pacify investors with an impressive number of registered users that he totally blew the opportunity to ESTABLISH the concept and build up a massive base of users later, possibly even using that to beat Disqus to the concept of universal comment login.

        The real tragedy is that, after Loic messed it up, it became common wisdom that “video commenting doesn’t work”, without any understanding of how kludgy that implementation was. It debuted as the “Twitter of video” but completely missed the simplicity and ease-of-use that allowed Twitter to take off.

        If you look at all that was yet to happen way back then, it is clear that if Loic had any sense of minimalism or of the importance of usability, he would have made a genuine impact instead of just being, today, an energetic self-promoter with a cute accent.