While there are a lot of different applications and solutions available for videoconferencing, Google Hangouts has some distinct advantages over Skype, Facetime, or GoToMeeting:
- You don't have to remember another set of login credentials; you can use your TSS Google Account.
It will work on any device, whether it's a laptop, phone, or tablet. GoToMeeting doesn't have a strong moblie app and FaceTime only works with Apple devices.
You don't have to run any special software in the background to receive chat requests (like with Skype and GoToMeeting), you just need to be logged into your Google Mail account to receive an invite.
- It allows up to 15 different people to conference together; FaceTime only allows two-party chat. You can also invite an unlimited number of non-active participants to watch and comment on a Hangout; only GoToMeeting offers anything like this.
- It allows for screensharing, a feature also missing from FaceTime.
- There's no limit to the number of Hangouts that TSS employees can have at once. Since the organization only has one set of credentials for GoToMeeting, we can't host two different meetings at the same time using it.
- Hangouts works really well with Google Calendar. You can attach a Hangout request to a calendar event and then invite your guest(s) to the calendar event.
This article will walk through the basics and features for how to host a videoconference session using Google Hangouts.
Creating a New Hangout Using Your Web Browser
1. First of all, you'll need access to a computer with a webcam, microphone, and speakers/headphones. Visit hangouts.google.com
and log in with your TSS credentials. You can use Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer. The first time you log in, Google will show you a couple of slides about how Hangouts works.
2. In the Hangouts interface, you'll see three large circular buttons near the center of the screen. Along the left-hand side are access to your contacts, messages, and phone calls. The three-lined 'hamburger menu' in the upper left-had corner will show you the full options menu for Hangouts.
3. To start a new videoconference, click the large button labeled 'VIDEO CALL". Hangouts will open a new tab in your browser.
4. You'll be treated to a scenic image (I got sheep!), a giant clock, and a listing of your calendar events. Before beginning your hangout, you should check your Settings by clicking the gear icon in the lower right region of the screen.
5. From the Settings menu, make sure your webcam, speakers, and microphone are working correctly. You may also have to grant your web browser access to use your microphone and webcam; you'll want to click "Allow". Speak a few words while looking to the left of the second box (the microphone input) for small green dots; these indicate whether your microphone is working. You'll also want to play a test sound to check your speakers.
6. To start a new hangout, click on the "Start or join Hangout" button. You'll be prompted to enter a Hangout name (which can only contain letters, numbers, and spaces). Once your hangout is up and running, you'll want to invite some guests. You an do this by clicking the button in the middle of the screen labeled "Invite People", then typing their email address. By default, Hangouts will restrict you to just contacting people within TSS, but you can change this to invite guests outside the organization. The email address field will suggest people from the TSS Directory as you type their name:
7. Now you've got a Hangout! Remember, you can invite as many as 14 other people to join you in a Hangout.
The Hangouts Interface
Here's a quick tour of the Hangouts interface. Using the labeled buttons on the screen, you can show your screen, use Hangouts text chat, add more participants, mute/unmute your camera or screen, adjust your settings, or end the hangout. In the bottom right-hand corner, you can see all of the participants in your Hangout and you can click between them switch who shows up in the large view at the center of your monitor. All of these features are simple and easy to use; they don't require much explanation. If you're having problems with your microphone or speakers, click on the settings gear and double-check your webcam, speaker, and microphone settings.
Adding Video Chat to a Google Calendar Event
If you want to add a Hangout to a Google Calendar event, open up the event in Google Calendar and view its details. Look for the link labeled "Add video call" and click it:
After clicking "Add video call", you'll be offered a link that you can click to begin your videoconference session.