Google Hangouts for Web could be the start of social networking 2.0

Google continues to spin off its services, each with its own identity. Jack Wallen posits this could be the beginning of the new social world order.


Google Photos recently gained a certain level of autonomy by exfiltrating itself from Google+. Now, in similar fashion, Google Hangouts has its own, well, hangout. That's right, the chat/talk/video solution from Google has a dedicated site that allows you to enjoy all the functionality of Hangouts as you enjoyed from within Google+, Inbox, or Gmail. Head over to Google Hangouts, log into your Google account, and start enjoying.

But why? Doesn't Google have enough on their plate? Hangouts engineer, Jordanna Chord says this:

We are launching another way to use Hangouts today. From our new site you'll be able to take advantage of the best of Hangouts in the browser, along with an inspiring image to get you through the day. Check it out and let us know what you think.

So their goal was to be able to give you a Hangouts experience, apart from the usual Google tools, with an inspirational image?

I don't think so.

This comes too close on the heels of Skype for Web to brush aside it as coincidence. Google has never been one to want to be left behind. And I don't blame them. In similar fashion to Skype, Google wants people to use their services... more than the competition. This might mean allowing said services to be used outside of their regular playgrounds. Hence the Hangouts for web.

This new take on Hangouts, however, does have a few benefits over the integrated tool. First and foremost, you'll enjoy a much better UI and UX. The layout of Hangouts for Web was very well done... making it easier to use than the original tool. You will also gain much more obvious access to Hangout's settings. To gain access to the Settings window in the integrated app, you have to know where it is. In fact, the only way to gain access to the Hangout's Setting app (not settings for individual hangouts), you must open up Hangouts from within Google+ and then, without selecting a discussion with a contact, click the downward-pointing arrow at the top of the Hangouts window. This will open up the Settings window (Figure A).

Figure A

Image: Jack Wallen
The Google Hangouts Settings.

The downward-pointing arrow will turn into an X, which you can click to return to the main Hangouts window.

To get to the Settings window in Hangouts for Web, all you have to do is sign into your Google account on the web page, click the menu button (three horizontal lines), and then click Settings from the sidebar (Figure B).

Figure B

Image: Jack Wallen
Getting to Settings from within Hangouts for Web.

This is the right move for Google. Hangouts is a great tool for communication--especially for those that want a solid alternative for Skype, but don't want to have to always open up and of the Google apps to get to the service.

But this also makes me question the future of Google+. It has been rumored for a while now that Google+ was being split into different services. We've already witnessed Photos peeling away from Google+. Now we're privy to Hangouts making its exit. Back in March, it was thought Google+ was to be split into "Streams" and "Photos". We have yet to see "Streams" come to fruition. With the migration of Hangouts, this could be coming next.

And Google could be onto something. Consider this--Facebook is failing on a number of levels. Any business who is still desperately clinging to their Facebook lifeboat as a marketing tool knows how bad those waters are. Organic reach is gone and Facebook is doing absolutely zilch to fix the problem. Twitter has become nothing but a light-speed stream of blather. Google could create something that joined the best of both worlds with "Streams". Offer a Twitter-like feed that allows users to post more than 160 characters while at the same time creating communities where they can easily comment on what their "friends" post to their Stream.

With a lineup of Photos, Hangouts, and Streams--all separate entities in their own right--Google could have a social platform that could make serious waves. And with the ability to quickly launch each tool from that all-too familiar Google Square (you know the one), this could be the start of Social Networking 2.0.

What do you think? Is Google spinning its services off in the right direction?

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....