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The Best Part About Google+ Hangouts Is That The Technology Itself Completely Disappears

November 2, 2012 | Telepresence Options
Drew Olanoff, TechCrunch

One of the underlying features launched originally with the Google+ project was its video conferencing platform, Hangouts. It's been a success from the perspective of user adoption and also grabbed a partnership for Google with the NFL. Video is an extremely tough space to tackle, just ask companies like Skype, Airtime and countless others. Nailing an intimate experience that supports two or more people in a video conference is no small feat, but Google knocked it out of the park with Hangouts.

googleplus.pngToday, the team announced some new features, nothing "major," but some really nice things that make the Hangout experience even more enjoyable and easier to use. When you're in a Hangout, you can now display or hide a new sidebar, which shows you who's in the room. It also sports a fit-and-finished notification system, which alerts showing in red, actions in blue and announcements in grey. Hangout apps have also been surfaced, illustrating the great work that developers have done using its API.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Product Manager on Google+ Hangouts, Kate Cushing, about what makes Hangouts so special and how the team tackles hard problems like scaling such a service for the masses.

A Hangout About Hangouts

Long story short, I injured myself yesterday, so I couldn't visit the Googlplex to talk to Cushing. No problem. We jumped in a Google+ Hangout and chatted for a while. Her insightful knowledge of the project is extremely evident, but the nuances that I've surfaced in the past only became clearer as we chatted.

Cushing is a recent graduate who was a part of the famed Google APM program, and has been working on Hangouts before it was launched to the public last year. Previously, she worked on Google Analytics, but there was something about Hangouts that caught her attention:

    "Hangouts is where I wanted to be, it's an exciting place to be at Google and on the net right now. Real-time communication is the next frontier. When I went away to college it was SMS and voice and for my dad it was letters and phone calls. Now it's video chatting."

The No. 1 use case for Google+ Hangouts is for hanging out with friends, but companies are adopting it for internal meetings with teams that are spread out all over the world. For example, Cushing works with some of the engineers who aren't in Mountain View, using Hangouts to get a more "natural" feel that beats emails, texts and phone calls. Cushing explained this phenomenon quite eloquently:

   " I think one of the most exciting pieces around what we're doing with Hangouts is mirroring the real-life interactions you have...but on the web. Tiny details like how we switch video when we're talking. Switching focus is what you see on a TV show and the kind of focus when you have during a normal group conversation in real life."

    "I can interrupt you, make a joke, fire out punchlines. The standard parts of conversations that are fun are here in Hangouts, and I can recreate the dinners that I would have with my family."

It's that real-life mirroring that makes the actual technology behind Hangouts, which is actually quite impressive, essentially disappear. To me, the best technology in the world gets out of the way and lets you do your thing. It's one of the reasons why I really enjoy using Apple products, because even though everything is pretty, the "tech" hides itself. I honestly have to say that Google's products are starting to show those same properties.

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