Let’s Hangout!

The scenario:

Much of my course work has a team or group component. While it’s great to distribute the workload and have the opportunity to collaborate, coordinating schedules and getting everyone in the same room is often a challenge if not impossible.

To address this problem, the teams that I’ve been working with have adopted Google Hangouts. In the class that I’m taking right now, we’ve had four projects due, and outside of class we’ve only met face to face once. Intrigued? Read on.

What is a Hangout?

Hangouts are a feature of Google’s social network Google+. Up to 10 people can simultaneously video/audio chat and collaborate over the internet with this powerful tool. Participants can join Hangouts from their laptop/desktop/smartphone or be dialed in if they are in an area without internet service.

Getting Started:

In order to use Hangouts, there are a couple technology pre-requisites.

1. You need a Google account.

2. If you’re using a desktop/laptop you’ll need to install the Google Voice and Video chat plugin .

3. Navigate to http://plus.google.com to get setup with Google+ (setting up your profile, etc)

*optional* If you want to connect using your iOS or Android device, be sure to download the Google+ app.

*optional* For each class, I create a Circle, an organizational tool in Google+. This semester I’m taking EPS7545, so I’ve created an EPS7545 circle that I’ve added my four team members to. This just makes my life easier when I’m setting up the Hangout.

Time to Hangout

Now, assuming that you and your group members are all setup (meaning they have their Google+ accounts set up), it’s time to get to the good stuff, starting a Hangout!

Navigate to http://plus.google.com

On the right hand side of the screen you’ll see a Hang out’s section and a Hang out button. Click on the Hang out button:

A new browser window will open up with an interface that looks something like this:

The first input box is where you enter the names/e-mail addresses of the people you want to hang out with. Hangouts will default to inviting everyone that we’ve placed in circles. For our cases, however, we’re looking to hang out with a specific group, so remove the “Your Circles” blue button in the invite box. If you did the optional step and created a circle for your group, all you have to put in is the name of that circle, otherwise you can enter the e-mail addresses or circles of the people you want to invite (*note* they will need a plus account to join and will be prompted to create one if they don’t have one).

To keep things simple, there’s not a real reason for us to name the Hangout or enable Hangouts On Air, so you can skip these steps.

Finally click on the big blue Hang out button, you’re Hanging out!

So what does it look like?

Let’s take a moment to talk about what’s happening in the Hangout interface. Google divides the interface into three functional areas:

  1. The People area – Along the bottom third of the Hangout screen you’ll see the video thumbnails of the people who have joined your Hangout and the Apps that are currrently enabled for the hangout.
  2. The Content area – In my screen shot, I’m the only person in the Hangout, otherwise you’d see whomever was talking in the content area, the app that was active or the screen that was being shared.
  3. The Upper menu – Above the main content area are a series of button that will allow you to text chat, invite more people (including dialing someone in over phone), share an application or your whole screen, bring up a google doc for everyone to edit, bring up a youtube video for everyone to watch or add one of the many Hangout apps that are available, such as a sticky note brainstorming wall, mind-mapping diagramming, etc.

How to join an existing hangout:

How do your participants know that the Hangout has started? There are actually a few ways. If you have Google Chat installed, you’ll get a chat message with a link to the Hangout automatically when you’re invited. If you’re on your Google+ page there are a few ways to discover Hangouts that you’ve been invited to

  • In your activity stream (just click the blue Join button).
  • In your notifications (Red number in the upper right hand of Google Plus).
  • By clicking on the Hangout button in the left hand nav (if you don’t see it, click on the More button).
To configure how your notified of hangouts, visit Google’s help page on Hangout Notifications.


That’s about it. If you get stuck, Google’s help for Hangouts is also fairly comprehensive. It may seem like several steps to get up and running, but it’s important to remember that once you’ve done the set up the first time you’re done, each subsequent time you’ll be up and collaborating in seconds. There are many alternatives to this. WebEx, Skype, etc, but the integration with Google docs and the price (free) make Hangouts a winner for me. What are you using to bring your team together? Let me know in the comments.

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