Back in July Facebook conducted a webinar with an awesome announcement about video calling via Skype. This came just a few days after the launch of Google+ a social network from Google with its own video feature called Google Hangouts. So what is the difference between them?
First let me start off by saying that I have been meaning to write this blog post for over a month. The reason I hadn’t? Every time I went to the video calling page I was given a message saying that it would be coming soon, nor did any of my friends have the little call button next to it. I must say I was very disappointed in this long delay after hearing for weeks that there was something “awesome” coming to Facebook. This was something they really needed to have rolled out across their network within a week of release, so my not having access to it until this week was a major turn off. So what did I do in the time frame while I was waiting? I started using Google Hangouts.
Like Gmail/Google Talk and Orkut, Google Hangouts requires you to install the Google Talk plugin. Google Hangouts have a pretty slick interface. It allows for up to 10 people to connect and all broadcast on their webcam at the same time. It opens up in a new window where the main person I am viewing is large and on top, while all of the other people, including myself, have their webcams going in smaller boxes displayed next to each other allowing you to quickly shift the focus of who is in control. Resizing the Hangouts window resizes the all of the videos that are being broadcast. While of course the video quality is influenced by how good the other person’s webcam is, I found the experience to be top notch.
All of the users are available to talk at the same time, and there is group chat for everyone in the Hangout which is great for people in an apartment. This works great for users that need to mute individual users/everyone and mute their own microphone.
Anyone connected to a Hangout can invite other users simply by sharing the URL for the hangout. Notifications are sent to users that are specifically invited, and an IM will be sent to them if they are currently enabled for chat. Google is smart enough that it detects if a person has been invited to a hangout and they try to start their own they will be notified about the ongoing hangout. Users can block a contact from joining the Hangout and that does not block them from being a part of your circles on Google+. Besides the 10 user cap, the only limit to who can be in a hangout is that they must have a Google+ account. The fact that you are in a Hangout will appear in your Google+ stream.
In a nice little bit of self-promotion, Google Hangouts can be set up to display YouTube videos to everyone connected. This is a pretty neat feature, and sounds like the type of thing a group of people hanging out might do. Very powerful use of social media in my eyes.
Facebook Video Calling
Facebook video calling also requires users to install a plugin before they can experience video calling. This plugin produces a significantly different video experience from Google Hangouts. First off, Facebook video calling only works one on one, and there is no browser window to display the call. Instead it is a window that is always on top. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it makes it very easy to focus on the person you’re talking to, but it also makes it incredibly hard to multi-task. Additionally, your webcam is displayed in a tiny box that goes over top of the person you are viewing. The video window can be resized to a certain extent, but there are limits. There are some controls on the video that also go over the call, but thankfully they fade out unless you move your mouse over the window. It just didn’t feel very intuitive in my eyes. I feel like I was missing something when I was using it.
You can only set up a video call with users that are online to chat. You cannot start a call with an individual that has marked them selves unavailable to chat or is not currently signed on. The time and date of your call are displayed in your message history with the individual, but the call itself is not recorded. If the person is unavailable to chat a video message can be left.
The video quality seemed to be slightly different for me on Facebook than on Google Hangouts. I conducted video calls on Facebook to the same people who used the same cams, but they seemed slightly inferior to Hangouts. Not much of a difference, but one did exist.
While Facebook does obviously have their own chat feature, it doesn’t natively integrate with their video calling feature. The service is called video calling and it is just that.
Wrapping Things Up
Currently neither Google Hangouts nor Facebook video calls work on mobile devices. Google at least mentions this in their help documentation so that leads me to believe that they are at least working on it. I have not seen Facebook comment on it since their webinar where they mentioned that it during the Q&A section and said that it will not be available on mobile devices. For them to be really social I see this as a must have feature in the days ahead.
I find the video capabilities of Google Hangouts to great benefit to Google+. I think it has been thought out much better than Facebook video calling. Google Hangouts was really designed for social living, while Facebook basically copies what Yahoo Messenger and AIM have had for years now.