I knew it was expecting a lot from a free service. With ten people on a Google+ Hangout, all at the same time, I anticipated there would be problems. And there was one, but only one.
My library’s Emerging Technologies Team meets monthly, with every-other month’s meeting being remote. They’ve tried many remote meeting solutions, both paid and free. The pricey professional services work well but are too expensive to purchase the number of licenses we require.
In late June I received an invitation to try Google+. Immediately I began seeing Google+ users like Trey Ratcliff holding informative Hangouts with up to nine of his friends. Others, too, were using Hangouts to bring together groups of people for very fun and lively discussions. The possibilities were obvious.
So, the team set out to hold its next remote meeting via Google+ Hangouts. Everyone who didn’t have an account was sent an invitation, and IT made certain that everyone had a device equipped with a web-cam. The Google voice and video plug-in was installed on all the computers. Some early testing was done with small groups of two and three, but the day of the meeting was the first time all ten team members would log on at the same time.
When the time finally came to log on, everything went rather smoothly. Network speeds were rather good, and everyone’s video feed was clear. It only took a few minutes for everyone to adapt to the modified speaking style needed for remote video meetings.
All of our problems were related to sound. People relying on their desktop or laptop’s built-in microphone were sending out noisy audio — background noise, weak volume, and feedback were all problems. Also, two people were situated in the same room but were using different laptops, each relying on their built-in mic. That was a recipe for feedback hell. One team member briefly tried to use their iPhone, but the audio quality was terrible.
The other audio problem was related to having ten people in the meeting without anyone’s mic being muted — everyone was transmitting background noise. While this isn’t a problem when one or two people have their mics on, having ten mics on was creating a very high noise to signal situation.
Fortunately, the solutions are rather simple:
- Equip everyone with a headphone/microphone. This can be something as cheap as a $5 iMicro device, but a unit that employs noise cancellation works better. I used a Plantronics headset and was very happy with the quality.
- Make sure everyone understands to mute their mic when they are not speaking. The moderator can do this, but it’s easier if everyone simply does it themselves.
Google Hangouts offer a lot of productivity potential to teams and others wanting to collaborate remotely. New features announced in late September offer the ability to view Google Docs, screenshare, and use a sketchpad. You can even broadcast your Hangout so anyone can watch — you could interview a group of authors and invite everyone in your library system to watch.
We’re going to continue exploring the potential of Google Hangouts. With library budgets tight and IT departments looking for more and more ways to find efficiencies, Google Hangouts offers a very appealing set of features at a great price (free). Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.
More info: Google: About Hangouts
You can find me on Google+.