In conjunction with Google I/O 2013, Google announced the release of a new Hangouts experience. The new Hangouts provide a consistent chat and video collaboration experience across multiple platforms. Hangouts replace the current version of chat within Gmail, and a new Hangouts app replaces the Google Talk app for both the Android and iOS platforms.
The new Hangouts app works even better with Google+. If you use Hangouts and have a Google+ account, you may start chats with your Google+ Circles from Hangouts. If you've set up a Google+ Circle for your team, Hangouts lets you chat, share photos, or hold a live video meeting across the web, Android or iOS devices with your Circles. Chat discussions are limited to 100 people, while video hangouts remain limited to 15 participants for Google Apps accounts.
Not all Google Apps administrators will want to enable the new Hangouts. As of late May 2013, administrators may not restrict the new Hangouts to users within the domain: once the new Hangouts feature is enabled, users may chat with any other Hangout user. Additionally, administrators may not force chats to be "off the record" in the new Hangouts. Full SMS and Google Voice integration with Hangouts is rumored, but not yet available. (For example, inbound Google Voice calls work, but not outbound.) See Google's documentation for additional considerations and details before enabling the new Hangouts.
While administrators may want to wait, users may be eager to try the new Hangouts apps. One user I work with downloaded the new app, but received an error message while trying to login: "Hangouts has not been enabled for your account. Please contact your administrator to enable this service."
Mobile Hangouts users with Google Apps accounts will see this error when logging in until a Google Apps administrator enables Hangouts
Here's how to fully enable Hangouts for your Google Apps domain.
1. Enable Hangouts in Talk settings
Login to your Google Apps control panel (e.g., www.google.com/a/yourdomain.com, replacing yourdomain.com with your actual Google Apps domain name). Go to the Settings tab, and then choose Talk from the left menu. Select "Enable the new Hangouts for users in this organizational unit".
Enable the new Hangouts for users
2. Enable Google+ to enable collaboration with Circles and photo sharing in Hangouts
Go to the Settings tab, and then choose Google+ from the left menu. If Google+ is enabled, you'll see settings similar to the image below. If Google+ is not yet enabled, click the "Preview premium features" button to enable Google+ for your users.
Confirm that Google+ is enabled for your users
3. User setup
Within Gmail, your users can now switch to the new Hangouts. To do so, they'll need to click the triangle next to their chat status in Gmail, and then choose "Try the new Hangouts". The Gmail page will reload, displaying the new Hangouts format. A green line under a user's profile image indicates that the user is online.
Switch to 'Try the new Hangouts' from old-style chat
Conversations and persistence
The new Hangouts in Gmail displays recent conversations, not just people. For example, the screenshot below shows three conversations: a conversation with my wife, a conversation with my daughter, and another conversation involving all three of us. These display as three distinct conversations, not just two users. Hangouts grouped by conversations are extremely useful for team collaboration and communication.
Hangouts show conversations, not just people
Conversations are also persistent: you can add a message to a conversation even if the other members aren't online. Hangouts members will receive a notification, and be able to read your message when they next access the Hangout. You'll know who has read your message because the new Hangouts displays the user's profile image below the last message they've read in a discussion stream.
A user's profile image displays below the most recent message the user read
The new Hangouts provide a persistent discussion stream for your group conversations. If Google integrates SMS and Google Voice, Hangouts could easily serve as a central collaboration system for your team. And if Google integrates document sharing and collaboration into Hangouts, it may be the only tool you need to get work done with your team on the go. Hangouts is a solid mobile, multi-platform tool. Let me know what your experience with the new Hangouts has been in the comments.
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.