Google+ Hangouts come to Gmail, joins group video chats with your inbox

Google on Monday announced it had expanded its almost four-year old Gmail Video Chat service to include Hangouts, the popular new Google+ group video chat service. Beginning today, users will be able to connect to Google+ Hangouts directly from their Gmail interface.

In 2008, Google's Gmail team rolled Google Talk with video chat into Gmail via a relatively small browser plug-in. That plug-in was actually a peer-to-peer client which enabled users to connect to their list of contacts via their respective messaging clients.

Hangouts, however, are not delivered in a P2P fashion, and instead utilize Google’s own network to carry the traffic. So in this way, users who are chatting do not necessarily even have to have a chat client open, and they can go directly through their desktop or mobile browsers.

Hangouts is one of the big draws of the Google+ social network, as it offers groups of users the ability to watch YouTube videos together, or hold "on air" forums on certain topics with limited participants, but open public viewership. There is no comparable feature built into the other popular social networks, but services like Stickam and Tinychat provide the group chat experience as their central offering.

Facebook, for example, unveiled video calling last year, which utilizes the Skype API, but there is no browser-based group chat element yet.

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