Google+ Hangouts is so powerful that most Google+ users don’t know what to do with it. Many are just poking at it like those ape-men in 2001: A Space Odyssey suddenly confronting a monolith. Or, they’re ignoring it all together.
This amount of communication power has never before been placed into the hands of the public. And it’s literally awesome.
One example: You can broadcast live to a global audience using a free feature called Hangouts On Air -- not only on Google+, but also YouTube and any web site you’ve selected to embed the video in (say, your blog). If what you’re broadcasting is super compelling, it will be shared and reshared and reshared again. Everyone who receives the live share taps instantly into the live broadcast in progress.
With all this sharing, you -- yes, you, all by yourself -- could theoretically have a larger audience than CNN in ten minutes -- hundreds of thousands or even millions of viewers.
The ability to live-stream in a context of radical viral sharing was simply unheard of before Google+ Hangouts On Air.
But even without the live broadcasting feature, plain-vanilla Hangouts is super powerful. It allows you to video-chat with up to nine other people. But that’s just the beginning.
Hangouts is an extremely flexible service. You can fire up a one-on-one video chat with a colleague. During the discussion, you can choose to invite the whole department to join. Then you could leave the hangout even though you started it. And anyone in the group could invite anyone they wanted, even people on cell phones. The hangout could continue for weeks, moving to different populations around the globe.
Hangouts are literally unlimited in duration and totally free of charge. There's currently no way to pay for Google+ hangouts.
You'd think with all this power and flexibility, there would be more people abusing the service. So I'm going to tell you how.
Here are my six best stupid tricks for using Google+ Hangouts for purposes never intended:
1. Home monitoring with video and intercom.
If some company launched a new security and home monitoring camera product that let you watch multiple rooms in your home, plus click-to-talk with a two-way intercom -- and if the price for that product was free -- people would be lining up around the block to get it.
But that’s exactly what Google+ hangouts can do. No line! No additional purchases!
Google+ hangouts have a curious, under-appreciated feature: You can join a hangout with multiple devices under the same login. That means your phone, tablet, laptop, netbook, home PC and work PC can all join the same hangout at the same time using your one username and password.
To use Hangouts for home monitoring, simply launch a hangout and invite only yourself before leaving the house.
Any old device you already own with both Wi-Fi and a camera can join the hangout. So maybe put an old laptop to monitor the bedroom, and an old cell phone to keep an eye on the front door.
Then, leave the house. At work, you simply fire up a device there and join the hangout. You’ll see all the other cameras in your house, and hear any sounds, too.
Go ahead and mute the office PC microphone and blacken the camera at work using the buttons at the top right of the Hangouts window.
If, say, your spouse comes home, and you want to talk, just unmute your mic and talk. It’s like an intercom system.
Note that you can also monitor these cameras from an Android or iOS phone or tablet, even from the car or anywhere you can get an Internet connection.
2. Starbucks security system.
Whenever somebody has to use the bathroom at Starbucks, or any similar place where people are using laptops in public, they often ask a random stranger: “Can you watch my laptop while I’m gone?”
This makes no sense.
First, how do you know the person you asked won’t grab your laptop and run?
Second, what’s he supposed to do, tackle the thief and beat him to a bloody pulp? He’s a non-fat, no-whip latte drinking hipster, not a German Shepard.
Here’s another idea: Launch a Hangout On Air, minimize the hangout window, then go use the bathroom while the hangout is going. (Name it: “Please ignore this hangout” so your circle friends don’t waste their time watching it.)
Chances are, nobody will steal your laptop. But if they do, the video feed will be automatically posted to YouTube. You can show the video to police, which may help them catch the crook.
This tip works especially well if you’ve got an external USB camera and can point it at the laptop.
3. Hangouts anywhere. No, really. Anywhere.
One of the biggest barriers to doing hangouts is environmental. The computer is in the same room as someone watching TV. It’s too weird to do a hangout in a public place. It’s too noisy to hear the conversation.
The solution is to use a headset that offers extreme noise cancellation. The best one that I’m aware of is called the Boom E.
The headset will work with any device, from a desktop computer to a laptop to a tablet to a phone -- all devices that also enable Hangouts.
The headset is expensive -- more than $300 -- but it enables you to do hangouts from absolutely anywhere. You can do hangouts from a nightclub, for example, or the beach or from a roller-coaster. The people in the hangout won’t hear anything except your voice. Here’s a demo of me using the headset in a very noisy Starbucks.
And you’ll hear the other people on the hangout, too, because the earpiece goes deep into your ear, making conversation audible even in very noisy environments.
The same headset also enables hangouts in very quiet environments. You can whisper, and everyone on the hangout can hear you just fine, but people in the same room can’t hear you at all.
4. Ambient hangouts all day, every day.
People tend to treat hangouts like videoconferences. You make the connection, you have you conversation, and you get off.
There’s no need to get off with Google+ Hangouts.
You can run what I call “ambient hangouts” -- hangouts that are always running. It’s an open invitation to connect.
Who would you invite? I would recommend a spouse, or a small circle of friends. They can connect, say hi, then go on with their day while the hangout is still going. It’s a lot like you’re spending time together in the same room.
Futurists have been predicting, and researchers have been inventing, a world of systems that will create the illusion that you’re in a specific place, even though you’re far away. But Google+ Hangouts make this happen at no additional cost and with almost no effort.
Here’s an idea. Let’s say you’re planning to work from home tomorrow. Before you leave the office, launch a hangout and invite only yourself. Full-screen the hangout window on the computer on your desk, then go home for the day.
The next day, as you’re working at home, join your own hangout.
When people come to your desk, there you’ll be. They can have a face-to-face conversation with you in your office as if you were sitting there.
If there’s a meeting in the conference room, you can invite one of the participants to the still-running hangout. They can log in with their account, and now you’re in the meeting.
6. Pet monitoring
Everybody loves Google+ hangouts, even your dog or cat! If you want to stay in touch with your pet while on the business trip or just at work, set up a monitor in a place where they can’t claw at it, and launch a hangout before leaving. You’ll be able to watch, listen to and talk to your pet while away. They’ll love it, and so will you. Why not? It’s free!
These are my six stupid hangout tricks -- amazing uses for Google+ Hangouts that Google never intended.