- Note: Google Hangouts has been replaced by Google Hangouts Meet and Google Hangouts Chat. See Working and convening remotely/Google Hangouts Meet for updated information.
Google Hangouts is a videoconferencing service used widely at the Wikimedia Foundation. For example, Hangouts is used for:
- Hosting remote presenters at large meetings like the Wikimedia monthly activities meeting
- Regular team meetings
The Wikimedia Foundation uses several accounts for managing and uploading Google Hangouts on Air videos. See YouTube channels.
As multi-endpoint video conferencing is an emerging technology, the service and its interface change frequently. For the most up-to-date documentation on Hangouts, please refer to Google's Hangout support page.
Here is a quick video that introduces Google Hangouts if you are unfamiliar with the service.
Alternatives to Google Hangouts
As of December 2015 the Wikimedia Foundation Elections Committee successfully used WebEx in 2015 for their meetings. Stewards also have used WebEx successfully for two remote meetings with the WMF office. (See also Research:Committee/Preferred_meeting_method#WebEx)
Users in Mainland China, as of March 2015, are unable to use Google Hangouts without a VPN. If you wish to communicate with users in Mainland China it may be better to use Skype, QQ, and/or WeChat, or give an international telephone call to their Chinese telephone.
You first need to setup a Google+ account. Once you have a Google+ account, you can start a Hangout by going to hangout.google.com. You may also broadcast the meeting live on YouTube to an unlimited number of people with a Google Hangout on Air.
A Google Hangout can be attended by up to 25 persons (including the creator).
Tips for a Smooth Google Hangout Meeting between Remote Folks and a Conference Room
Here are a couple simple tips to maximize the effectiveness of the technology in conference rooms.
While hosting a Google Hangout meeting where you will be showing slides, doing some kind of screenshare, etc., it is best to show the slide deck from a computer other than the one in the conference room hosting the Hangout. This makes it possible to keep a continuous video feed of the conference room going, even while someone is sharing their screen.
To achieve this, simply host the Hangout from the computer in the conference room, but use another laptop to join the Hangout and share your screen from there.
This has a couple advantages over screen-sharing directly from the computer set up on the conference room:
- It allows you to always keep the Hangout open in the conference room, which
- keeps remote participants visible to everyone in the conference room (making it easier for folks in the conference room to remember that there are remote participants)
- makes it more obvious to folks in the conference room when Hangout participants are asking questions, leaving notes, etc. in the Hangout chat window
- Keeping a constant video feed of the conference room going makes it a bajillion times easier for remote participants to follow along with the conversation and have a better sense of when it is appropriate to jump in with a comment or question because remote participants can identify who is speaking in the conference room at any given time.
Even if a screenshare of a slide deck is the primary thing everyone should be focussing on, having the picture-in-picture of the office at the bottom of the screen, and being able to toggle between the two, makes the experience much less like the dreaded conference call of yesteryear -- it helps us feel more like we are in the same room.
Below are a couple things to keep in mind while using the speakerphones.
- Significant audio feedback will occur if someone in the conference room is participating in the Hangout on their laptop and has not muted their microphone and speakers.
- Try to avoid placing your laptop in between your mouth and the speakerphone. Doing so can create what is called comb filtering. Basically, comb filtering can occur when the delayed sound reflections off of your laptop screen in combination with the initial sounds the speakerphone is picking up can create constructive and destructive audio interference. This makes audio sound hollow and generally unpleasant. In other words, try to create as clear of a path as possible in between the audio source (your mouth, for all you humans out there) and the microphone (the speakerphone).
Google Hangouts on Air
You can use Google Hangouts On Air to capture and stream your presentation or meeting. Give yourself plenty of time to get set up. You can do all of these steps except for the last one in advance.
- Sign in to your Google account and go to https://plus.google.com/hangouts
- Navigate to the Hangouts on Air tab
- Click the Create a Hangout on Air button
- Enter a title and description
- You can either leave the Audience "Public" or remove that and add individual guests and/or Google+ Circles
- Click the Share button
- If it is your first time setting up a Hangout on Air, you have to click through some introduction and verbiage.
- You will now be redirected to the Event page of the Hangout on Air you just created.
- To share the links to access the Hangout on Air, click the "Links" button underneath and to the right of Details
- To share the link to join the Hangout on Air as a remote participant
- Click "Start" to launch the Hangout on Air (do not worry, the stream will not begin until you explicitly tell it to do so)
- Click the "Invite People" icon on the toolbar at the top of the window
- Copy the permanent link or share it via email
- To start the Hangout on Air, click "Start"
- Make sure your microphone is capturing (you will see green dots at the bottom of the window if your microphone is working)
- You will see a percentage counter at the bottom of the window while the YouTube broadcast is initializing
- When you are ready to start the YouTube broadcast, click "Start Broadcast"
Hangout on Air Tips
- Broadcast. Remember that using hangouts is broadcasting and recording what would otherwise be a regular hangout. So this will be available later as a video that anyone can visit. Privacy setting for the video are the same as for the hangout: if the latter is "public", the former will also be public, and so if it is restricted to certain circles.
- Theme. This is a great opportunity to strengthen your organization’s identity. Chose a specific theme, or build one, adapting your graphic identity. The theme must be a picture of at least 1300 pixels wide and 300 pixels tall.
- Title. This is probably the main hook for the audience that will see your event, so consider spending some time on it. You can make any webinar or virtual meetup interesting, even if it involves a lot of technical know-how. Ideal titles comprise 5–10 words maximum.
- Description. This text should not be too long; ideal length is 50–70 words. Make it engaging, tell people why it is important to join this event and what they will get out of it. You can also specify who the event is aimed at, in case specific knowledge is needed.
- Time. While day might vary, take into consideration that time is an important aspect to growing an audience. Events hosted at WMF headquarters have proved to be most successful when scheduled at 15 UTC. Take into consideration that if you are expecting people to join from different parts of the world, you need a reasonable time to be online ... and awake! Consider using a facility for intended participants to mark out which of your chosen times are possible for them.
- Captions. Use this feature for translation. It also allows you to include links to presentations and other resources in the video.
- Questions and answers. Turn this feature on before starting the hangout. It allows viewers to make questions before and during the hangout. These will also be available in the video page on Youtube, after the broadcast is over. Bear in mind that some people find the interface is not very helpful. When you are about to answer the question, you need to select it. This will generate a marker in the video, and whenever the user watches the recorded version, clicking the question will take them to that minute. Warning: not very useful for follow up questions.
- Trailer. You can make a short video as a teaser for your next hangout. This would work as an audiovisual resource that summarizes what will happen in the virtual meetup.
Moderating a Hangout on Air
Some technical details involving the role of the moderator:
- The moderator will be the person who starts the Hangout on Air.
- This person can change the screen that is shared during the Hangout, by either sharing their own screen or clicking on other participant's screen.
- Whoever talks will be featured as the main screen, unless the moderator picks another screen.
- The moderator should be able to monitor questions from the Q&A app
Google Hangouts Troubleshooting
Google Hangouts are overall a pretty stable and reliable service, but intermittently odd problems will arise. This section contains the most common troubleshooting steps if your meeting happens to not be working properly.
Generally Good Ideas
For best results, WMF Office IT recommends the following for the use of Google Hangouts:
- All remote parties should use a headset. This allows a little bit of leeway when experiencing latency issues.
- The current best browser for Hangouts is Google Chrome (subject to change.)
- All remote parties should keep both their browser and the Google Video Plugin up to date. If in doubt, re-install.
- All remote parties should mute when they are not speaking. This is especially important for meetings with many remote participants.
The most common complaint about Google Hangouts revolves around what is commonly described as an "echo" effect. This issue is particularly difficult to troubleshoot, as there are numerous situations (both bugs and expected behavior) that can cause this general symptom. Almost always, the problem is caused by a network latency issue, and is mostly outside of our control.
If you experience this problem, try these steps in order:
- First, be sure that there are not multiple microphones open in the same space, such as the conference room computer and someone else's laptop. If multiple microphones are in the same vicinity as each other, an infinite loop will be created, causing a lot of feedback noise. It is probably too late, but suggest that remote people always use headset. Headsets forgive quite a bit of latency issues.
- The quickest, most annoying solution is to have all parties mute themselves when they are not speaking, including the conference room host.
- Next, suggest that the user hearing the "echo" leave the Hangout and come back in. This works 25% of the time.
- If that does not work, try having the host leave the Hangout and come back in. This also works 25% of the time.
- Next, try disconnecting the USB cable connected to the speakerphone(s), waiting 10 seconds, and plugging it back in. You may need to re-select the speakerphone(s) in the Hangout settings.
- If all of these steps fail, everyone should leave the Hangout and join it again, hopefully starting a different Hangout instance entirely.
"Our Speakerphone isn't working"
This is an intermittent, yet relatively common issue. To fix:
- Unplug the USB cable from the speakerphone
- Wait 10 seconds
- Plug the cable back in.
- If necessary (again, intermittent), choose the speakerphone (e.g., ClearOne Chat150, Jabra Speak410, Phoenix Smart Spider) in the Hangout settings.
Essentially all other troubleshooting of Hangouts in the conference rooms is accomplished with the following steps, in order:
- Be sure that the speakerphone is selected for both the input and output in your computer system settings.
- Be sure that the speakerphone is selected in the Hangout's gear menu. Try the test sound button.
- Leave the Hangout and re-join.
- Quit the browser, open it back up, and re-join.
- Unplug the speakerphone from the back of the Mac Mini, wait 10 seconds, and plug it back in. You may need to re-choose the device in both System Preferences and the Hangout gear menu.
- MCruz (WMF)
- KLove (WMF) (talk) 17:50, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
- BCampbell (WMF) (talk) 19:45, 10 February 2016 (UTC)
- Working and convening remotely/Google Hangouts Meet
- Blue Jeans
- Working and convening remotely
- mw:Google Hangout meetings (WMF-specific notes from 2012)
- Office telepresence
- Grants:Learning patterns/Hosting a successful Hangout
- Repeat events
- A playful logo builds identity and invites interaction
- Social Media
- Connectivity issues
- Choosing to meet up virtually or in person
- See the videos of past hangouts hosted by Program Evaluation & Design Team
- More info on annotations on Youtube videos.
- Hangouts on air features and apps