Google Hangouts On Air is a quick, free way to have a videocast with up to 10 participants and as many passive watchers as you want, thanks to streaming through YouTube. The stream is about 20 seconds delayed and the commenting interface is still kinda raw, but as a quick way to set up and broadcast video chats, it’s hard to beat that.
I picked up a lot of great ideas from Pat Flynn’s first Q&A Hangout. He used ChatWing to set up a chat room that everyone could join, and the experience was much smoother than using CommentTracker or something like that.
Here’s my new Google Hangouts On Air workflow for the Emacs Chats series I’ve been doing. Since the Emacs crowd is fairly technical, I used IRC as my chat room, with a web interface for others who didn’t have an IRC client handy. (Naturally, I used ERC to chat on IRC from within Emacs.) Having other people around worked out really well, because I could take a break and ask other people’s questions. =)
The other new thing I tried this time around was starting the broadcast really early (like, half an hour early) and setting it to share my screen with the coming-soon information, which meant that I could post the streaming URL in lots of different places.
I’d like to expand this to doing regular Hangouts On Air Q&As or conversations. How about we use the sach.ac/live URL to point to the next Hangout On Air I’ve scheduled? As of this writing, this will be a Q&A on November 29 on learning and note-taking. We’ll probably stream it over YouTube and have a chat room for discussion/Q&A. Want to pick my brain? See you then!
(Want more one-on-one help? Book a Helpout session – there’s a nominal charge to keep slots available instead of letting no-shows book them all.)
We did the first virtual hang-out experiment with Google Hangout, since… well, virtual hangout, right, so it makes sense. Google Hangout limited interaction to the first 10 people. Since more than 10 people wanted to join that, the rest ended up just watching the video stream, which is less fun, and they didn’t have a way to participate in the embedded text chat either. (If you’re paying for Google Apps for business, government, or school, you can have up to 15 people interacting.)
AnyMeeting has the advantage of letting more than 15 people join and interact (up to 200, actually, which is not a huge deal because I’m not that popular anyway). I don’t like turning people away at the (virtual) door, so it was worth a try. Besides, the ad-supported version is free.
Video worked okay, but audio conferencing was a little laggy for us, and some people’s microphones didn’t work (maybe Linux is not fully supported?). We switched to text chat instead, making do with the small chat box in the lower right corner. The chat box couldn’t be resized or undocked, but it was enough for interesting conversations. People swapped tips, I picked up a couple of good ideas, and all of that worked out.
I wasn’t sure if I could get the chat transcript afterwards and the chat box wouldn’t let me select all the text, so I copied everything one by one just in case. It turns out that you can get a copy of the chat log from the Past Meetings tab, so that’s convenient. It does say that the chat log is only available if the meeting was recorded, so that might go away if I’m actually on a limited trial and my account reverts to the regular free account after a week or a month or so.
I tried GotoWebinar with someone else and that didn’t work for what I had in mind either, since people couldn’t chat with each other unless you made everyone panelists. Maybe GotoMeeting someday? It’s pricey, though.
Here’s what I want for the hangouts:
At minimum, a text chat where people can freely talk to other people, so that we don’t worry about interrupting each other.
Video and audio conferencing would be nice. I like the way Google Hangout shows the video of whoever’s talking.
So, probably Google Hangout for general hangouts (first come first served!), streamed and recorded, with AnyMeeting for structured webinars with one or two presenters that more people might be interested in.
IF we regularly hit the limit of Google Hangout with active participants
AND I build the habit of having these regularly
AND we do something with these conversations (blog posts? questions? tips? lessons learned? webinars? workshops?),
THEN it might make sense to spring for a premium solution, and I’ll mentally account for it as equivalent to the cost of taking a few people out for lunch each month. (The connection fund!)
Wild success would look like:
We’ve got several of these scheduled, so people can sign up for whenever they want.
The hangouts alternate timezones so that it’s easier for people to get to them.
I don’t feel awkward or nervous whether I’m chatting with just one person or chatting with nine other people; I accept what is in the moment.
People feel like they know me better (not just words on a page or an RSS feed), and I feel like I know them better too. I think video and audio are very useful for this, which is why I want to keep those options open.
We have more ongoing conversations through blogs, comments, social networks, or e-mail.
For the unstructured hangouts, people feel comfortable dropping by with something they want to teach me or ask me (or ask other people, too).
For the structured presentations, I regularly present something that can help people save time or do awesome things, and people’s questions help me refine it further. We harvest the recordings as screencasts and blog posts.
People don’t think it’s a waste of time. =) Maybe they’re learning cool things, maybe they’re glad about being able to share something that will turn into a blog post even if they don’t do the writing, maybe they’re experimenting with social interaction too.
We have a smooth and nonconfusing flow – people know how to join the hangout and what to do if it’s full.
There’s a way for people to find out about upcoming chats – Google Calendar? a mailing list? Google Plus? http://sach.ac/hangout ?
Here’s the chat transcript from the July 3 chat, if you’re curious or want to follow up:
*squee!* It turns out that virtually hanging out with people–no pre-planned presentation, not even a fully-tested understanding of the platform, and only the roughest idea of an agenda–can be totally awesome. Not at all as scary as I’d imagined, and more fun than I thought it could be!
It felt amazing, like having a bunch of friends over for tea, except without the temptation to keep cooking. People were freely chatting with each other, and I didn’t have to worry about filling in the silences. In fact, the combination of a voice/video/text chat worked out wonderfully – I could listen to people share their insights, and I could chime in without interrupting. I picked up lots of ideas for things I want to learn more about or share, and I learned all sorts of interesting things about people who participated.
It was a great shared learning experience, too. People talked me through dealing with the platform’s technical limitations – changing the Hangout to a Hangout on Air, remembering to start the broadcast… We played around with some of the features of Google Hangout. Hangout Toolbox’s “Lower Third” addsa newscast-like attribution to your video, which makes it easier to see who’s speaking. Google Drive’s shared documents and sketchpad real-time editing sparked ideas about collaboration.
NEXT STEPS IN TERMS OF HANGING OUT
So this was fun, and we should definitely do an experiment #2. =) I’m so glad people joined me in this experiment, and I’m looking forward to the next one! Which will be… hmm… I’ve promised to organize ones in other timezones as well, so July 3 9 PM PHT / 1 PM GMT / 9 AM EDT, and another one on July 17 at 8:30 PM EDT. =) I think a fun way to make this work is to sort out the scheduling details with at least one other person who can be there. That way, even if no one else shows up and it’s a short conversation, I won’t feel like I’m talking to myself.
For the next virtual hangout, I want to try using AnyMeetingso that people don’t get turned away at the (virtual) door. Google Hangouts are limited to ten people, although more people can watch the video stream. (They don’t have access to the text chat, though!) I can imagine that audio/video gets chaotic past a certain number of people, but if people can toggle their audio/video on as needed and we use the text chat to let any number of people ask and answer… I think that would be a great possibility to explore.
In the meantime, people can discuss topics or connect with each other through Google+ or other channels. Once the recording is up there, it’ll be easier for people to remember what we talked about. Since it’s difficult to take notes and listen and talk and type all at the same time, my memory’s all fuzzy until I get a chance to review the recording, too! I look forward to digging into some of the ideas (see “Next steps in terms of blogging” below for the ones I remember), and maybe people can connect with other people to follow up on things that sparked their interest.
Maybe I’ll inch my way up towards regularly doing this every month, every two weeks (or even every week!) in various timezones. I like the idea of hanging out, getting to know people, hearing what’s on people’s minds and what’s going on in people’s lives, and watching people connect with others. I’ve learned so much from people through blog comments and e-mail through the years. Maybe it’s like an open house, like the way I structure my get-togethers so that people can come any time they want and leave any time they need to. I can just sit down with a cup of tea and hear from whoever wants to share what’s going on in their life – maybe anchored with one conversation that I know I’m going to have, but opened up to anyone who wants to drop by. I don’t know whether public recording or unknown participation will get in the way of sharing, but maybe it’s worth a try.
Another way to look at it—probably an even better way—maybe this is about creating more opportunities to learn from people, and by learning from people, I can help those people learn even more. Most people don’t blog, or they feel self-conscious about writing when they don’t know who’s reading. One of my favourite ads is this IBM Linux one from 2003, where lots of people teach this young boy about life. I often feel that my life is like that, except maybe with more facial expressions and sound effects. ;) If you help me (or the other people who come to these hangouts), you help lots of other people, and maybe those tips get turned into blog posts or visual notes too. So maybe we pick things we want to learn about together, and people volunteer to share what they’ve learned, and we all move forward while also telling stories and swapping tips… =)
NEXT IN TERMS OF BLOGGING
More collaboration: It might be interesting to put my to-blog list out there in a form that other people can add to—maybe a Google Doc? And maybe if I develop closer connections with people reading this blog, then people will feel comfortable pushing back when I don’t explain something clearly or I take something for granted so that I can learn how to write better. =) Maybe I can collaborate with people on outlines and questions for things that I should write or make: that Emacs book that I ended up passing to someone else (who also procrastinated it)? a guide to sketchnoting? tips on how to live an awesome life?
I’d love to learn more about speech recognition. I’ve been thinking about it as a way to make my posts sound more conversational. (I read much more than I talk, so I tend to sound bookish.) Because I need to train the speech recognition model, I’ll probably be slower in the beginning. If I can get it to be reasonably accurate, it might be a good way to get thoughts out quickly someday.
Helping people get better at blogging: While I don’t have the One Right Answer, I can share what’s working for me, and I might be able to help people—especially if they can figure out what kind of help they need, like a little bit of social accountability or a friendly person they can ask when they have questions. =)
Onward and upward! I’ve created a new page at sachachua.com/hangout that will include details for upcoming hangouts. Looking forward to more experiments!