Google+ gets a killer app

What do you get when Google+ and YouTube reproduce? Hangouts on Air, which today is available globally -- well, if that's how you view 20 countries (or so it looks from the list I see). My question: What does this mean for the future of services like USTREAM? Given Google's reach with search and video services, and the growing social network, coupled with Google Plus Your World, my answer is "uh-oh".

Google+ debuted nearly 11 months ago in beta, with the Hangouts video-sharing service being one of its stand-out, and stand-apart-from-Facebook, features. Hangouts lets Google+ users video chat with up to 10 people. In September 2011, Google+ opened to the public, with big upgrades to Hangouts: "On Air", which allows watching beyond the 10 participants; mobile broadcasting for Android 2.3 and above; and collaboration, which reached beyond YouTube to shared screens, sketchpads and Docs. Today's broadened availability is all about enabling millions of self-broadcasters to reach wide audiences at low cost.

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The concept isn't by any means new. Services like BlogTV, Livestream, Qik, USTREAM and even YouTube, among others, enabled anyone to self-broadcast, long before Hangouts on Air. Professionals use these services but also many individuals to reach broader audiences. Now anyone with a cell phone can broadcast live from major events, as we saw from protests during the Arab Spring, or hold concerts in their living room. Hangouts on Air evolves the concept by combing social context with Google's massive reach.

Google+ has many differentiating features going for it, like Circles, compared to Facebook and other social networks. What it doesn't have is a killer app, until now. Facebook's compelling appeal is size, not any one feature or even many. With more than 850 million users, most anyone knows someone who's there. Google+ has over 100 million users, commendable for a social network not even a year old, but hardly proven success.

Over the weekend my daughter told me: "Me and my friends all tried out Google+. It just didn't stick". Her word usage surprised me, because "sticky" is industry lingo used to describe certain products or services. The stickier, the more likely people are to adopt and stay. Facebook and Tumblr are sticky to my daughter, because that's where her friends hangout. What? Do you go to a new, fancy restaurant to eat alone or do you march down to the greasy spoon where your friends go? Google+ is that new eatery.

Less than two weeks after Google+ private beta launched, in early July 2011, Facebook added video calling capabilities -- but one-to-one rather than Hangouts' up to 10 people. Skype provides the video capability to Facebook. Social distinguishes Hangouts from Facebook's service and now the ability to self-broadcast. Sure, Skype standalone allows video chatting among groups, but there's no broader social network context. Still, established services like USTREAM or startups like Spreecast make social video or self-broadcasting available to Facebookers.

But Hangouts on Air is slicker, integrated with the social network and leverages YouTube's enormous reach coupled with Google search. What good is any self-broadcast if no one can find it? YouTube's pull cannot be understated. Continuing a longstanding trend, Google sites, largely because of YouTube, topped the US online video rankings in March by the three criteria comScore measures: unique viewers (146.1 million); number of videos (15.7 billion); and, most importantly, average time online per viewer (7.1 hours). No other site or service comes close. Self-broadcasting tied to Google+ adds social context (e.g. hanging out together) and big reason for people to go there.

Google+ isn't the only place to consume or present On Air broadcasts, but it anchors the service -- and you'll need related Profile. Chee Chew, Google engineering director, explains:

With just a few clicks, you’ll be able to:

  • Broadcast publicly. By checking "Enable Hangouts On Air", you can broadcast your live hangout—from the Google+ stream, your YouTube channel or your website -- to the entire world.
  • See how many viewers you’ve got. During your broadcast, you can look inside the hangout to see how many people are watching live.
  • Record and re-share. Once you're off the air, we’ll upload a public recording to your YouTube channel, and to your original Google+ post. This way it's easy to share and discuss your broadcast after it's over.

If you're planning an upcoming public broadcast using Hangouts on Air, please link in comments. Only safe for work or school content, please.

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