Google+ Turns 2: How Hangouts Completely Changed My Work Routines

Google+ turned two this week and by all accounts Google has won over critics with a compelling social network experience. I have been a fan from day 1 and perhaps what I admire most about Google is that they ignore the pundits while playing a very long game of their own making… so while my initial reaction that Twitter and Tumblr would be the biggest losers, which obviously was not the case, there are other factors that are worth looking at.

Simply put, Hangouts have been enormously impactful on me and how I work. Here is something they nailed and it is so profound that I didn’t even realize it until just this week, Hangouts are built around the notion that a video experience is YOU first, and then whatever you are sharing second.

Think about how Gotomeeting and Webex handle video, it is something that is added to the act of presenting something and despite a significant push to feature video, I have encountered few instances where someone says “hey share the camera!”. Contrast that to Hangouts where video is a primary experience… Google just figured this out while Webex and Gotomeeting are still locked into their traditional mode, which also limits their ability to have an instant video conference in the absence of a persistent conference room.

We have a very distributed company and on any given day I will have between 3-6 planned video Hangouts and a bunch of ad hoc ones. This has become such a fundamental mode of communication for me that I invested in SteelSeries gamer headsets to provide the best audio quality while also improving the comfort factor.

The integration with Google Calendar is another winner, where adding a video conference to a meeting is as simple as clicking the link. No scheduling service, passwords, dialin numbers. and so on… it just works.

Another experiences I had recently that drove this home was at HP with one of their sophisticated teleconference systems. Yes, it was remarkable but I kept thinking that I could do something a lot easier with Hangouts… instead of getting a bunch of people in dedicated rooms just to talk to each other, we could have each run a separate video in Hangouts and the result would have been the same in terms of what we accomplished… and for free.

The integration of Talk with Hangouts is a mixed bag and I hope that Google restores the ability to place voice calls from the Hangouts add-on in Gmail. Google has an interesting integration challenge that is a result of an embarrassment of riches with a robust chat product that built on XMPP, Google Voice, and Hangouts. A big change they announced last month was the abandonment of XMPP, which has a lot of features as well as a big developer community, and the replacement of Talk with Hangouts. I like the user experience and having my chats pop up in Hangouts in addition to Gmail, but the degradation of features is disappointing, most significantly the inability to place voice phone calls right from Hangouts.

I don’t know where they are going with this but the result for me is that I now use Skype more frequently for voice calls instead of hitting the phone icon in Talk and placing a call.

Lastly, the mobile experience is completely seamless, and that extends to video as well. On my Samsung S4 the mobile video conferencing is surprisingly good and glitch free… how far we have come from commercial video phones that started showing up in the 1980′s that used super expensive hardware and puts POTS through an extreme gymnastics routine.

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G+, Twitter and Tumblr are Biggest Losers

Like a lot of my peers I have been immersed in Google Plus for the last week and I have to give credit to Google for really getting this one right. The sharing mechanism is very accessible, Circles offer welcome segmentation of your social graph, and most importantly, it’s fun to use.

Much of the commentary has centered on what a successful Google + means for Facebook but I disagree that this is represents a severe near or medium term threat to Facebook. What it does harken is a form of arms race between the two companies that is ultimately good for users.

There are two major losers worth highlighting, Twitter and Tumblr. We won’t see the effects of G+ on either service for some time but I forecast that as G+ mainstreams that Twitter and Tumblr activity will plummet.

Twitter’s defining feature is both it’s strength and it’s limiting factor, 140 characters. Tumblr use over time has grown as Twitter itself grew, and I think a major factor in their growth is the mainstream acceptance of short form sharing. Like a lot of people I started to use my Tumblr blog to share links with short text snippets that provided context, and I enjoyed the photo and video sharing which embeds the media blob rather than link to it.

I wrote about my shift to Tumblr here, saying last year that:

Twitter and Facebook will continue to be important channels to push content through but rather than creating content in those networks I will, whenever possible, post through Tumblr. I will continue to “talk” with people through social networks and Facebook has some unique capabilities that I will take advantage of.

G+ is essentially a better Twitter+Tumblr for me than combining the two services could ever be. I get the realtime effects of an activity stream on top of easy content sharing tools, and I get the ability to provide a high degree of context in both what is shared and in the interaction because there is a threading model for replies.

Lastly a word about Circles. Google is providing a good starting point with Circles but it’s not the end game because being successful with Circles is entirely a function of your discipline in maintaining Circles, it’s like email folders in this respect.

We really need to get to a point where dynamic Circles can respond to a person’s interest graph as well as their social graph. In this model content would be shared not on the sole basis of who I targeted with it but as a response to what people are actually interested in.

I am making an effort to maintain my Circles but I don’t enjoy it nor do I believe that it is a model that the mass market will adopt, even though the notion of segmenting a person’s social graph is entirely reasonable and highly practical.

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