Hangouts has always been the killer feature of Google+, and over the year, the search giant has added some nifty improvements to it. Topping the list of improvements and enhancements is Hangout on Air, which lets you broadcast worldwide via your YouTube channel. Google describes it as a front porch, wherein you can just drop by to meet a friend. But it is also pitched as a platform for businesses, a tool to spread social awareness and get expert advice on various topics and likewise. Several prominent figures and politicians have been “Hanging out” on Google Plus to spread their messages and interact with audiences. Hangout is really cool for chats, meets or broadcast, and Google has begun integrating it into its products, for instance, GTalk in Gmail. It allows people to leverage on this free video-conferencing technology for personal and professional lives. Read on to know how to get started with Google+ Hangout.

To begin with, you need a Google+ account to be able to use the Hangouts feature. Your existing Gmail account will let you create a Google+ account. You can then work on creating an impeccable profile, which may come handy in case you plan to broadcast your Hangout for businesses or a larger audience and attract potential guests. You could create an interesting introduction, describing yourself, your profession and what interests you. 

Getting started
Firstly, you can hangout with a maximum of 9 people, which means the Hangouts feature supports ten people. Needless to say, ensure that you have a working webcam and mic. You will also have to download the required Hangout plug-ins and drivers. Once you have created the Google+ account, you can access Hangouts directly from there. You will find the Hangouts option on the left side of the screen. On clicking, it takes you to a page wherein you can name the Hangout and add people you want to invite for a tete-a-tete. As soon as you start typing the name of the friend you want to hangout with, their profiles will automatically pop up. It will then start sending invites to your friends to join the Hangout. You can also start a Hangout from a Messenger conversation to turn your text chat into a face-to-face video chat.

Download all the plugins

Download all the plugins

Mobile users will have to download the Google+ app in order to use the Hangouts feature. Users of leading mobile platforms like Android and iOS can download it from Google Play and Apple App Store, repectively. To start using the app, login with your Google+ account details, tap on the Google+ icon and tap on the Hangouts option from the menu displayed. Once you click on Hangouts, the app shows a list of circles and friends, and you can tap on the profile photos of people you want to add. Then hit on “Start the Hangout” option and simply wait for everyone to accept your invite.

How will you know that someone has sent you a Hangout request? For smartphone users, it is usually a  ringing notification on their smartphone. You need to accept the notification by swiping your finger (just as you answer a phone call) and it takes you immediately to the Hangout window. Besides, a Google+ post – “[Name] is hanging out” – and an invite button, which asks you to “Join the Hangout” is another option. If you are using Gmail or GTalk, you may also receive the Hangout invite on chat and via email; you can also join it from Messenger conversation.
Once the Hangout begins, you can see the people who’ve joined the Hangout as small icons at the bottom of the screen. So the one who is talking automatically dominates the screen and the others remain as small icons at the bottom. Remember, none of the video conferencing members own the Hangout. This means, at any given point, anyone in the Hangout can invite anyone else. If you don’t want to hangout with a particular person, you can choose to automatically block or ignore the person for the duration of the Hangout and he/she won’t be able to see or hear you. If you’ve ignored the person accidentally, there's also an Undo option.
On the desktop, the left hand side is populated with options such as Chat, Google Effects, Google Drive, Invite, Screenshare and so on. Screenshare lets you share content that you are viewing on your desktop, be it a folder or a browser page, with others on the Hangout. You can also chat with others while still in Hangout. However, on the smartphone, such add-ons are limited. Android doesn’t support additional apps and chat. The mobile app has handy options to invite users, end the hangout, change the camera orientation (front or rear), mic (mute/unmute) and so on. On mobile phones, if you drift away from the Hangout window, you can simply go to the notifications of the phone, wherein you will find Hangout in progress. Just tap on it and the screen will take you to the option that reads “Resume Hangout”. You can even add people to Google+ Circles while in a Hangout.

The video below shows how to start a Google+ Hangout:

If you hover over the small icons of the people in your Hangout, there are options like pin video, mute video and mute microphone. To keep the video on a specific person in the Hangout, you can use “pin the video” option. Likewise, you can unpin the video too. You can toggle between the front and the rear camera, mute the video in case you don’t want to be visible to a particular member of the Hangout (black screen will appear instead of your video).

Hangout on Air
“Hangout on Air” means you can start a Hangout and broadcast it to the world to hear. It is just like starting your usual Hangout by naming it and inviting all the people you want to join you. A checkbox stating 'Hangouts on Air' will appear and you will have to enable it.  Once everyone's in the Hangout and you are ready, simply click “Start broadcast” at the top of the screen. Google will warn you before your Hangout session broadcasts both on Google+ and YouTube channel. A 10-second countdown will begin, and then you’ll go live. The title at the top will switch to “On Air”, and you will be able to see the number of live viewers along the top. Your Hangout will be recorded as a public video and will be available on your homepage once it ends. A “live player” of the Hangout will also be posted on your Google+ homepage and YouTube channel.  In case you edit the video, your post (including the video URL) will automatically be updated to show the edited version.

The video below shows the various things for which you can use Google+ Hangouts:

Hangouts put to use
Hangouts isn’t just to catch up with friends, but can be put to use effectively by businesses, colleges, schools, social activists, celebrities and even politicians. Several prominent figures and politicians have been taking to Hangout to spread their messages and interact with audiences. Michelle Obama promoted her Let's Move! campaign on Hangout and Finance Minister P. Chidambaran became the first Cabinet Minister in India to appear on Google Hangout, taking questions from young students, analysts and industry experts on topics from the budget. And the most recent – Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), Dr. CP Joshi, took suggestions for highway safety from netizens. Last year, Narendra Modi’s Hangout with netizens became a huge hit with 4,000,000 viewers (including online and prime time TV). Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also conducted Hangout with netizens as a part of Art of Living's Social Media. Hangout on Air ensures that you are heard across the world.

Besides, there are several things that you could do with Hangout to help you professionally. Team meetings can be conducted over Hangout, which is quite handy when team members are scattered in different locations. Conference phone calls often leave a lot to be desired and video conferencing is obviously a better way wherein you can gauge a person’s facial expressions. Needless to say, it saves time as well as money as you don’t have to travel to places for meetings. However, these meetings will be limited to 10 people and you'll have to opt for Google+ premium to add five more people.

It will be helpful for experts trying to create webinar series. In case you find webinar software expensive, then Hangouts can be a great option. Experts can conduct webinar series with a small set of participants, which you can further broadcast using “Hangout on Air”. As aforesaid, they can even edit the video. 

Teachers and professors can use it for customised coaching of students. Press conferences can also be held using Google+ Hangout. For instance, Taylor Swift had launched her new album over Hangout. Celebrities can also cash in on this social media platform to make big announcements. It is also good for panel discussions and product demonstrations. Editors of online news sites have been actively using Hangouts to discuss issues, products and reach a wider audience. tech2 has been engaging in some tech discussions on Hangout and Firstpost has also been discussing several topics using Hangouts.

Hangout on Air makes it even better. You can use this platform wisely to reach out to audiences and form a loyal fan base. A lot of musicians have been using Google+ hangout to reach audiences and also interact with others.
Hangouts system requirement
A working webcam and mic/headphones are of prime importance. Google will ask you to download the Hangout plug-in. For desktops/laptops, Hangouts works on Mac OS X 10.5+, Windows 7/Vista with SP1 or later, XP and Linux. It supports all leading browsers such as Chrome (version 10+), Internet Explorer (version 8+), Firefox (version 3+) and Safari (version 4+). The minimum bandwidth required is 256 kbps outbound and 512 kbps inbound. However, for ideal performance, Google suggests 1 mbps (up and down) for 1:1 connectivity and 1 mbps/2 mbps (up/down) for group video connectivity. For using Hangout on mobile, iOS users will require iOS 5 or later. It is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, but is optimised for the iPhone 5. Android users with v2.3 Gingerbread or later can use Google+ Hangouts.

While all this sounds really great and the service is definitely worth a try, it still has limitations which could foul your experience with Hangouts. You need a very good Internet connection otherwise expect stutters and lags. It works well over Wi-Fi and 3G. It is limited by the number of people, something we can’t do much about. The mobile app doesn’t have all the features of the desktop version. As much as we’d like it, Google may not dish out a standalone Hangout app, and eventually we’ll have to access it via Google+.

Disclaimer: Firstpost and tech2 are properties owned by the Network18 group.

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