Why Google Calls Its Awesome Video Chat Feature 'Hangouts'

Photo: Flickr / tsakshaug

Google social chief Vic Gundotra gave a good explanation of why Hangouts, the video chat feature of Google+, is so much different — and better — than most other video chat services.On stage at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, TX, Gundotra explained that Google looked at video chat and saw three problems.

The first two were expense and complexity. Those problems were pretty easy¬† to solve: it made Hangouts free, and built it right into the Google+ Web site so you wouldn’t have to download and use a piece of software like Skype (although you still do need to download a voice and video plug-in the first time you use it).

The third problem was harder to solve because it was a social problem.

Video calls are more intrusive than phone calls — it’s more like walking up to somebody’s house and ringing the doorbell. People might be busy and not able to split their attention like they could with a phone call. Or maybe they didn’t take a showertoday.

Google solved this problem by letting you open a video chat session without having anybody else on the line first. You just start hanging out, send out the invitation to whichever friends or groups you like, and people can join up when and if they’re comfortable.

It’s more like hanging out on your front porch — you’ve opened yourself up to a neighbour stopping by to say hi.

Hence, “Hangouts.”

(A side note: SAI just used Hangouts for the first time to conduct a multilocation edit meeting. It wasn’t quite as casual as hanging out on the porch, but it was a lot better than the old way we did it, patching in a bunch of phones to a conference call. Hangouts is definitely a business tool, too.)

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