Google's live 'Hangouts On Air' rolling out to everyone everywhere, and why it matters
via Google's original post announcing hangouts
Today Google announced that, over the next several weeks, they're rolling out the ability to livestream and record hangouts to everyone. Shameless copy/paste of features:
- Broadcast publicly. By checking "Enable Hangouts On Air," you can broadcast your live hangout—from the Google+ stream, your YouTube channel or your website—to the entire world.
- See how many viewers you’ve got. During your broadcast, you can look inside the hangout to see how many people are watching live.
- Record and re-share. Once you're off the air, we’ll upload a public recording to your YouTube channel, and to your original Google+ post. This way it's easy to share and discuss your broadcast after it's over.
Now none of this is really new. Sites like Justin.tv and Ustream, among many others, have been doing this stuff for a long time. But those sites built their communities on top of their streaming services. What interests me about Hangouts On Air is that Google is building their streaming service on top of their community.
Previously, one typically had to know about Ustream and similar services in order to seek them out and take advantage of what they offer. Google, on the other hand, is making the same technology available to myriad people who otherwise would never have considered whether or not they want to do a live video meeting/chat/interview/podcast. And if the functionality is baked into the Google+ apps for Android, users of that mobile OS won't even need to download an additional app.
I think that's awesome. But I also know it comes with dangers. It's an opportunity for, at best, loads more noise in Google+ and other social networking feeds as people experiment with this stuff. At worst, for users, it's a great way to produce and disseminate spam, hate, and other assorted creepiness. At worst, for Google, it won't get any traction at all outside the Google+ fan club. Maybe it will live and die inside Google+, only coming to the attention of non-Plussers when Google decides to shove the Plus platform in peoples' faces. But Hangouts is built with YouTube technology, and no one should doubt the potential for anything with that kind of foundation.
In addition, there is an interesting tension here between Google and Hangouts On Air and Microsoft's Skype. Right now, podcasting heavyweights like the TWiT Network rely heavily on Skype for much of their production. The video-calling software, however, is notoriously prone to dropped calls and "Cyloning"--breakdowns in audio and video quality. If Hangouts On Air can avoid those issues, it may become a viable alternative to Skype for those kinds of use cases.
More broadly, Hangouts On Air puts Google on par with Ustream and others in the world of livestreaming news. Google can now function as a platform not only for the uploading and sharing of live video of political speeches, riots, and dispatches from convention floors, but for the distribution of that video content as it happens.
I'm sure I can't predict all the implications Hangouts On Air will have down the road. But even if it doesn't become wildly popular, it signals that Google is not content to make life searchable after the fact. They want to make it watchable, and interactive, as conversations happen.
What do you think?