Friday, 31 January 2014

The Beginners Guide To Hangouts

Last year I wrote for Comms2Point0 about what Google+ can offer.

Communities such as the one run by LocalGov Digital give you a great new way to connect interest groups. Pages are another way to promote one's brand or organisation, but like much of Social they're still reminiscent of the telegraph and newspaper era of traditional media. It's Google+ hangouts that bring Social into the radio and television age.

Skype has been offering video chat for years but it's more akin to the telephone than broadcast media and with the number of features to help one engage with one's audience being added to all the time, hangouts really feel like the the next generation of Social.

So here's my quick guide for get the most out of attending a hangout:

Step One

Join Google+. You'll probably find you've already got a Google account if you use Gmail, or Google Calendar, or Google Drive, or one of the many other things Google provides.

Step Two

Buy yourself a webcam to connect to your laptop or desktop. A few quid on one from eBay will do fine.


Use your smartphone: Many will have a camera and most can run the Google+ App. The only drawback to this is you'll have less of the hangout features available to you.


Don't bother doing either. It's not vital that people see you, so long as they can hear you well and most computers and all smartphones will have microphones good enough for the task.

Step Three

Start a hangout on your own; press all the buttons and see what they do; share your screen; give yourself a silly hat (you'll see). Get all of those rookie mistakes and "how does this work" moments out of the way without anyone else there to see when it goes wrong.

Step Four

Find some headphones (useful to avoid feedback and echo) and join an existing hangout. When I say join in, I don't mean fully participate, unless you're feeling brave. For my first hangout I muted the mic and just listened for much of the time.

If you're using it on a desktop, you'll have access to a traditional chat room that runs as a back channel to the hangout. You can ask questions in here and people in the hangout might discuss them.

At this stage you might want to do Step Two again as you've seen a hangout in action so you'll have a better idea of how you could use all the features. I still do this when Google add something new. If not, you're ready to go.

So that's it. Four easy steps, not to make you a pro, but certainly not a novice any more.

When you're ready to think about starting your own hangout, you might like to read Conor P's guide to running video conferences.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The first tweeters

New Year can be a time for reflection, and partly promoted by an excellent post from Dan Slee about radio and content without boundaries I thought my first post of the year might be one of introspection and a look back at the history of one aspect of communication.

Long before Twitter, long before the internet, there existed a publicly available, worldwide network of transient conversation between people around the world. These former day "tweeters" were Amateur Radio (sometimes called ham radio) enthusiasts, or radio amateurs as they're known.

During my childhood my dad was (and still is) a radio amateur and this played no small part in forging my interest in communications and techno geekery. As a kid, I spent time with my dad in a room not dissimilar to the picture above, listening to crackly voices being broadcast through the ether.

In these pre-internet days there was something incredible about being able to listen to radio broadcasts or even better, strangers talking, from other countries in the comfort of one's own home. If you had a licence like my dad, you could even join in the conversation.

Eerie chimes, repetitive number stations and the way single-side band distorts voices also added to the atmospheric nature of the experience and probably explains why I love electronic music too.

There are many parallels with social media. Like Snapchat, messages are over in an instant. Like Twitter, one can initiate or join in an open conversation with one or more people. Like Facebook, users "friend" others, in the form of QSL cards through the post.

Another similarity is that radio amateurs often use amateur radio to talk about amateur radio with other radio amateurs, given this is the only interest they know they have in common. Likewise there are chats and tweeters who's output largely consists of telling everyone how great social media is and discussing its use.

Of course there are limiting factors that don't affect social media, including the need to acquire enough technical knowledge to pass an exam. Citizens Band radio attempted to overcome this, but the range is limited to tens of miles rather than worldwide.

Amateur radio still exists today. Public services maintain a list of radio amateurs for civil emergencies; should all state run communication suffer catastrophic failure they're still there as the backup. There's also innova,tive stuff like WSPR going on that uses open source software and very low power transmissions.

So next time someone tells you the concept of social media is new, remind them that instant, open, worldwide communication between individuals has been around for over 100 years.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.