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.

Google Voice Gets a Global Spam Filter

I seem to have missed the news last month that Google added a global spam filter to Google Voice but thanks to the well placed reminders in the app I discovered it today.

GVoice has had a spam capability for some time now and the way it works is really straightforward… you can mark any call or SMS message as spam and future calls or texts will go in your spam filter. You can also go hardcore and block a number, in which case the caller hears a “not in service” message.

The new global spam capability goes a step further by taking the calls and txts marked as spam and collecting them in a global database, which the Voice service then uses as it’s own form of a Do Not Call list. Google is crowdsourcing their list through the everyday activity that their users are already doing.

In effect Google has done what the government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars doing ineffectively with the Do Not Call list…

Services I Like

Lately I have been trying a wide spectrum of personal productivity tools, mostly out of curiosity for what is out there but also because I need some efficiencies.

Diigo:

I have a lot of bookmarks but I’m not very organized about them, and in addition that problem I regularly let my browser overflow with tabs that “I’ll get to later”. Instapaper doesn’t work for me and Delicio.us is a question mark given the change in ownership; after asking around I settled on Diigo and so far it’s proved to be quite useful. The Chrome extension is really useful and I just set up a rule to draft a blog post once a week with all my bookmarks tagged with a keyword.

Lookout Mobile Security:

This is a really neat mobile app for Android that scans applications for malware and provides additional features like phone location, backup, lockout, data wipe, and more. This was an easy $30 (the premium version has some nice extras) to fork over given how effortless the app is.

Imo.im:

I’m not sure I like this fully like this app yet but the integrated messaging client that runs as a Chrome app is pretty nice. Time will tell if it is better than Adium but I have been using Skype more so that may end up being a  defining feature.

Skype and Google Voice:

Okay this is two apps and neither are exactly new but I recently bought a Skype number and about the same time I switched by Google Voice number to my Sprint wireless number. The latter is very slick because it fully integrates Google Voice with Sprint, and on my Evo the combination is pretty much everything you could want.

I couldn’t figure out why my Skype app was ringing with my cell phone and then realized I had added my Skype number to GVoice and my cell phone was ringing both at the same time… which turned out to be really useful when sitting at my computer. It gets a little wonky when you have the Android Skype app running and your cellphone rings through your Skype number but I don’t find myself using the mobile Skype service that much.

I have had Google Voice since the Grand Central days and have always struggled with the extra phone number aspect… but now that my Sprint number has ported over I feel that I can finally integrate GVoice into my daily routine in a very useful manner.