Ever since Google+ launched this summer, it had one shining feature to hold over competitor Facebook: Hangouts. But this alone hasn't done enough; the social media site has yet to really take off. Google's hoping to change that. It knows it has a possible juggernaut: alongside the announcement of Google+ Beta (no more invitations needed!), the company rolled out nine more features, seven of which will enhance Hangouts to make it extra attractive.
The new and improved Hangouts now function on your mobile phone, support screen-sharing, sharing sketchpads and Google Docs, there's also a broadcast hangout function that lets people tune-in without joining in. Google is also releasing Hangout APIs--development tools, basically, for the function. "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," says the Google+ blog. "Here's where things get REALLY interesting," explains The New York Times's Jenna Wortham on her Tumblr. "The future of communication is coming and it might look something like this." Why exactly are these moves so ground breaking?
Google's targeting the very lucrative business world. With screensharing, sketchpad and Google doc incorporated into hangouts, Google wants to lure companies to use the service, explains The Next Web's Brad McCarty. "When you consider the market for online meeting and collaboration platforms, Google+ has just thrown a highly-populated player into the mix. Without the need for external software, and at no extra cost, you can now do meetings and presentations to anyone on Google+. Oh, and Google+ is now open to anyone."
Google's now offering a unique collaboration and creation tool, something Facebook doesn't have, continues ReadWriteWeb's Jon Mitchell.
With screensharing and a shared sketchpad, and especially with Docs, Google Plus is now a platform for making stuff together, face-to-face. It's the first Plus feature that's categorically different than anything Facebook can do. Facebook surely has a bunch of exciting things to announce this week, but there's no chance any of them will go in this direction. Google Docs is it as far as cloud-powered collaboration goes - outside of the pricey enterprise market - and that team is killing it lately with new features. Google Plus Hangouts are now a natural place for people to work remotely together.
But beyond offering something novel, its also presenting the possibility that in the future it will have better offerings than anywhere else. Hangout API does that, explains Wired's Tim Carmody.
Some of the apps leveraging the Hangouts API will likely just lay over some basic software functionality for specific kinds of real-time chat. Dunn gives four examples of uses G+ users have already found for Hangouts: game shows, fantasy football drafts, guitar lessons and writers collaborating with one another. Specialized software to manage something like a fantasy draft is easy for a developer to do, but hard for users to manage themselves.
From that kind of entry-level application, you can imagine a variety of games, structured interactions and a range of other, increasingly sophisticated use cases as Google opens up more of the API. Users’ new ability to broadcast hangouts well beyond the ten-person limit for participants creates an audience for these new experiences.
If Google+ can draw that kind of innovation, hangouts might draw a crowd that didn't see the site as anything special.