For the past two nights I’ve checked out the “Hangout” feature. This is the one new feature that Facebook doesn’t offer. The first night I joined in on a pre-arranged hangout hosted by Ginger Smith, and about six or seven genealogists chatted for about an hour. Last night I started a hangout, which attracted six chatters, with no more than four of us at a time on screen as some chatters only stayed for a few minutes just out of curiosity!The first night was a real experiment, since folks didn’t know that a patch was required for the video chat, and some of us had trouble logging on to the chat. I had to reboot several times, and the chatters could see my name appear and disappear with each attempt. I finally got onboard, yet lost my wireless connection before the hour was up. There were a variety of platforms being used by participants, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc. and the one causing the most problems seemed to be Chrome (which is a Google product, believe it or not!) Dick Eastman mentioned that he had to close all his other windows to run the chat properly, and he blogged aboutthis, too.
Another thing I found out is that after the chat, Google+ automatically posted a notice that I “hungout with 6 people” and listed their names X, Y and Z. This is an automatic feature, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to edit or change this? Maybe I’m wrong, but it would be important to know ahead of time that the world is going to know everyone you include in your “Hangouts”! I suppose you could always delete this post, but for some people that might pose a bit of a problem.The more people who join your chat, the slower the video seems to run. The audio kept up just fine, but at some point the video became very jerky. People would seem to disappear off the screen, instead of seeing them get up and walk away. A chart held up in front of the camera would appear and disappear, so it would be important to remember to hold it there for a minute or two instead of just waving it in front of the computer (a good hint for genealogists!)
The second night’s hangout was initiated by a prearranged time, but most people just saw the open invitation to hangout on the stream and joined in that way. Spontaneous hangouts seem to be the most fun. I can see that if a family wanted to chat about a topic, or a group of friends decided that posting on line was getting tedious they could just break into a spontaneous video hangout to continue the conversation face to face.Marian Pierre Louis, who is a professional genealogist, had some concerns right away during our chat about how she looked on video. Lighting, background, and background noises all seemed to matter a lot in how participants looked and sounded. One participant had a TV on in the background, and another seemed to be too far away from the microphone and was hard to hear. Russ Worthington wore a headset (earphones and mic) and he sounded the best to everyone who was listening. This is not important for just socializing, but for a client conference or a more important conversation these are all things to keep in mind.
It was not necessary for participants to have a webcam and microphone, since there was a built in chat box on the screen. We experimented with sending messages on the chat wall, and it seemed to work just fine. It reminded me of the chat wall where the Peanut Gallery posts comments during Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy BlogTalk radio shows. I liked this because everyone can participate this way, even if they don’t have a webcam. Everyone will see the video, even if they are just chatting. There is a button to “mute” the camera (if you are in your PJs!) or to “mute” the audio (in case the phone rings, which happened to me!).Since I had initiated the hangout, I was curious to see what would happen when I logged off the conversation. Would it end the video conferencing? Or would the other participants be able to continue their chat? Fortunately, when I logged off, they could continue- which is a nice feature to know about ahead of time.
Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo