Google+ Hangouts and Higher Ed

What will Google’s social network mean for higher education?

If there is any component of Google+ with implications for higher ed, I’m convinced it’s Hangouts. Google’s blog explains Hangouts as “on-screen gatherings [that are] fun, fluid and serendipitous… By combining the casual meetup with live multi-person video, Hangouts lets you stop by when you’re free, and spend time with your Circles.”

Essentially, the Google+ Hangout is a video chat. Its inclusion in Google’s social “project” was the main thing that set it apart from Facebook for me. Sure, Facebook doesn’t have Circles, but you can achieve selective sharing on Facebook by using Groups, Friends Lists, or the privacy settings available when sharing a Post. Truly, “hanging out” via webcam was unique. At least until Facebook recently announced its new Video Calling feature. Within days of Google+’s launch, Facebook too was offering the one exclusive thing I thought Google+ had to offer. However, some distinct characteristics of the two make Google’s Hangouts the better option for higher ed.

Facebook allows users to video chat with anyone on their friends list. Therein lies the limitation. First, Video Calling is one-to-one. Second, participants in a Video Call must first be Facebook friends. With Google+, users can choose to share content with other users, even if there is no reciprocity. So, for example, a university might add students to a Circle and share posts with them, but those students never have to share anything with the university. This type of relationship is also available using Facebook Pages, but Pages don’t have a video chat option.

At least for now, Google limits the number of Hangout participants to 10. A video chat Hangout hosted by a university might not be practical. Imagine, though, a Hangout hosted by an admissions counselor, academic adviser, professor, leader of a group project, or international recruiter. Students across campus or even overseas could meet up at a scheduled time, or join an in-progress Hangout whenever they choose. What could a Hangout option mean for your Class of 2016 group? Maybe residential students will eventually meet and select roommates via webcam.

Whether Google+ will be a useful recruitment or engagement tool for higher ed will depend a great deal on its level of adoption. There’s no way to know what will be the next big social network. For now, it seems unlikely that the 750 million people on Facebook will abandon their Profiles as soon as they get their Google+ invitations. Most likely, even if Google+ takes off, universities will be maintaining presences on both social networks.

Of course, how many people said they’d never leave MySpace for Facebook?

Image  Source: Social Media Observatory

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