Google+ Hangouts: The complete how-to

(This post and sample chapter written by Kevin Purdy, author of ITworld’s Mobilize! blog)

Google+ is fairly simple to sign up for and get into, at least if you already use any of Google’s many, many tools. So why did someone, namely myself, write an entire "manual" for the social network?

Because, like many Google products, Google+ is easy to jump into, but you'll be finding things and saying to yourself, "Hey, I didn’t know I could do that" for months after your first post. And at the speed Google+ is improving, changing, and adding features, you'll wish you had an up-to-date guide to the social network, particularly if you need to keep a presence on Google+ for a business, organization, or other project.

So I teamed up with O'Reilly's skilled editors and production team to write Google+: The Missing Manual. It's out now as an ebook, in a number of formats that provide lifetime access and absolutely no frustrating copy controls, and a lifetime subscription to this manual's updates and corrections.

To give you an idea of the tone, content, and depth of this book, ITworld has posted this sample chapter. It's about Google+ Hangouts, the free group video/audio chat in Google+, which is perhaps my favorite feature of Google+. This chapter explains the unmentioned details of Hangouts, like the bandwidth requirements, the tricks for managing audio and video quality in your chat session, and the differences between Hangouts and "Hangouts with Extras."



Chapter 6. Hanging Out


Writing posts, uploading pictures, and checking out all the things your friends have written and uploaded to Google+ is a great way to let people know what you're up to and keep tabs on what they're doing. But what if you want to connect with people in real time and on a more personal level? That's where Google+ hangouts come in. They're a super simple way for you to chat with people using a microphone and (if you have one) a webcam, a video camera designed specifically to send video to your computer. (Most newer laptops come with webcams built in.)

In Chapter 3, you learned how your main Google+ stream is kind of like the lobby of a college dorm, and the streams for your individual circles are similar to hallways within that dorm, where everyone's written notes and posted photos on their doors. To continue that analogy, Google+ hangouts are like hanging out in a dorm room with the door open so people can pop in and out. (Or, as Vic Gundotra, Google's Senior Vice President of Engineering put it, hangouts are like sitting on your front porch and letting people know you're there: "Hey, I'm hanging out on my porch. I'm available, [and] if you're available too, you can join [me].") It's a place where you can turn on your microphone and, if you like, your webcam and, well, hang out with your friends. You can see your friends' faces and have meaningful conversations. And best of all, nobody has to install a special program, trade usernames, or "ring" a whole bunch of participants on separate "calls."

You can use hangouts to do whatever you want with up to 10 people: hold business meetings, discuss a document or spreadsheet, or wish somebody a happy birthday in a way that's as close to in-person as possible. The only thing you need to do before using hangouts is to set up some Google+ circles. And at a minimum, you need a microphone that's either built into your computer or plugged into it (although hangouts are more fun if you have a camera, too). This chapter explains the rest.

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