Monday, November 19, 2012

Google+ Hangout

So I finally got around to trying my first Google+ hangout on Saturday. I joined Word War II, a NaNoWriMo team word-boosting event, where writers strove to out-write one another and get caught up on our NaNoWriMo goals.

Our team lost. I bear part of that responsibility on my measly 400-some words each half hour. (One writer consistently managed 1500+ words every thirty minutes, but I'm fairly sure she has superpowers.)

More importantly, I figured out the Google+ hangout feature, which I now think is just fantastic. You can have several people video-chatting with one another, for free, for as long as you're all online. It also has a type-chat feature that you can see at the same time. And, important for ratta-tatta-tat typing sessions, you can mute your own microphone while still being able to hear things those not on mute say.

Of course there are the slightly awkward moments of everyone trying to talk over one another, and moments when people are getting up and moving around in the background, and the fact that there's a limit to the number of people who can be present in the hangout at a time.

But still, this is a really cool feature, a free feature, and I'm rather disappointed in myself for not making use of it before. Paired with the Google Docs spreadsheet, which we used to record word count scores and which everyone could access at the same time and see real-time updates, we were able to have an excellent team event.

If you can't get out and find a writers' group due to a rural location, find one online and try using this tool. It is video chat, so you probably shouldn't show up in your underwear, even though you're in your own home. You'll also want a decent computer speed, and having headphones really helps, because it prevents getting an annoying echo.

If someone doesn't have video, they can still participate through the chat, and if they have radio, they can do that too. We had a couple of members who were audio-only, but who just showed up on the rolling chat.

With the "Lower Third" function, (it's available in the bar on the left of the Hangout screen), you can add your name and a catchphrase/word count/whatever. There are color options for the bar (great for team playing.) Your own name and catchphrase will show up on your screen as written backwards, but don't worry; everyone else can see it properly. At the top of the screen is a button that will let you mute yourself.

If you haven't tried a Hangout yet, get a few Google friends involved and give it a whirl. Have an online-only critique group? Meet them in person without plane tickets. Trying to brainstorm, but your buddy lives two states away? Same deal. Too lazy to leave the house? Put a shirt on and meet your classmates for that group project you need to get done.

I really like this feature, and I can see how it could be all kinds of useful. Think I'll be trying another one sometime soon.

Have you used Google+ Hangouts? What did you think? Is it something you'd use again, and if so, for what?


  1. Sounds interesting. Sadly, my writing time tends to be 15 minutes here, 5 minutes there, and another 20 over here. But, eventually, my life will settle down (in a few years) and it's nice to know the options out there.

    1. I bet the options will be even more amazing by then! :D I can't wait to see what we'll have available in the next couple of years.