Thursday, July 19, 2012

Google+ Hangouts brings more faces to videoconference

Welcome to Tarleton Tip Thursdays, where every week we help you harness the power of social media. The following post was originally published in the Stephenville Empire Tribune and is reprinted here with permission.

Google, you probably use it as your everyday search engine. However, this particular website can be used for more than finding a restaurant or checking the news. Did you know that you can videoconference with nine other people using a Google system?

Google+ Hangouts resembles Skype, and is an improved way to communicate with people around world (or locally) through your computer minus the international fees. In any type of webcam intervention (Skype particularly) your computer screen only shows one individual. With Google+ Hangouts the screen is divided into ten different squares, which can resemble the Brady Bunch split screen from the ‘70s. This allows you to see everyone’s reactions at the same time.

Google+ Hangouts is free as long as both users are connected to the Internet and have some type of Google account. Families separated by distance can stay in touch. Talking on the phone is fine, but how nice it is to actually see a smile with that laugh. Or to see your little sister in her prom dress live before she hits her big night. Not only can you and your sister experience a moment together, but even grandma, grandpa, and your aunt can join in. Though nothing can replace the physical presence of a loved one in a room Google+ Hangouts is making it a little easier for you to stay connected and to be able to share those one-in-a-lifetime experiences.

No one feels left out, nor do you have to worry about who heard your big “news” first. You are ensured all of the attention because when you speak in the hangout, your screen automatically appears bigger on everyone’s feed.

Businesses that operate globally, or even county to county, are able to be on the same page without travel costs. This program allows for everyone to meet with a face-to-face webcam chat, which enables you to see reactions and use nonverbal communication cues to better decipher messages. You can also receive instant feedback. At the Texas Social Media Research Institute, board members and interns meet via Google+ Hangouts to brainstorm, share research and plan upcoming events.

How to get started

If you have a Gmail account, you are automatically set up with Google+, which resembles Facebook. (If it has been awhile since you have used your Gmail account, you may need to upgrade to include Google+. Click on the “You” tab along the top left to upgrade.) On the left hand side of the Google + screen there should be an icon that says “profile.” Select that option and next to your profile picture look for “Start a Hangout.” Click “Add more people” to select a specific circle to hang out with, and before the first chat you will be asked to download a small plug-in. Then enjoy the benefits of new and improved technology your fingertips.

The Texas Social Media Research Institute, based at Tarleton State University, is a cross-disciplinary collaboration focused on social media research and training. Intern Brooke King authored this column.

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