We’ve reported a couple of times on the viability of Skype and, more recently, Skype for Business, to support business-grade unified communications applications. In the interest of equal time, in this post we’ll take a look at whether Google Hangouts is now business-ready.
Hangouts has some interesting features going for it, not least of which is video conferencing for up to 15 participants, including those who don’t have a Google Apps account – although you can also restrict access if you like.
A feature called Hangouts On Air allows for broadcasting of video to an unlimited number of people. That’d be handy for a CEO message to the masses, corporate training and the like. What’s more, all video and audio streams are encrypted to ensure privacy, Google says.
Hangouts also supports voice calls, including conference calling, as well as screen sharing and instant messaging. Each is well-integrated into other Google Apps applications. From within Gmail, for example, you can launch a voice or video call when the need arises.
With respect to voice, users have multiple options, according to an official Google blog post from last October:
Starting today you can make voice calls from Hangouts on Android, iOS and the web. It’s free to call other Hangouts users, it’s free to call numbers in the U.S. and Canada, and the international rates are really low.
Free calls to U.S. and Canada should be of interest to pretty much any business and it’s a differentiator from Skype, which charges for calls to landlines and cell phones. (Skype for Business isn’t available yet, but it appears the charges aren’t going away.)
Hangouts Impresses Analysts and Survey Respondents
At least one analyst was impressed with the Google Hangouts developments, according to VentureBeat:
“This is a big, big step forward,” Current Analysis analyst Tim Banting told VentureBeat.
“We went from the initial stage of unified communications [to this] unified communications 2.0,” he said.
Instead of Hangout’s 1.0 version — with separate use of apps for real-time and asynchronous communications (i.e., non-real time communications), such as voice and email — Banting noted that Google is bringing them all together into a single environment, Hangouts.
BetterCloud, which sells management and security tools for cloud platforms including Google Apps, says a survey of its customers shows growing interest in Google Hangouts. Of nearly 900 respondents, 31% said they were using Google Hangouts, up from 13.3% in the prior year, a 133% increase.
Interestingly, a fair number of those respondents (367) were from companies with 100 users or more, and 92 of them had more than 1,000 users.
BetterCloud thinks all the integration work Google has done is paying off, enabling Google to make a run at GoToMeeting and Webex:
Clearly, companies operating on Google Apps are making an effort to actively use Hangouts in their organizations. And the integrated nature of the product (not to mention the fact that Hangouts are included in the cost of a Google Apps license) is motivation for organizations to [cut back or forego] their use of more traditional web conferencing services like GoToMeeting and Webex, both of which not only cost more than Hangouts, but require the installation of a plugin.
A Google Hangouts Security Lesson from Edward Snowden
One word to the wise with respect to Hangouts: if you do use that Hangouts on Air feature to broadcast a video, make sure you check and double-check your security settings. Apparently the folks who were running the recent FutureFest event in London didn’t do such a hot job at that.
They invited Edward Snowden, the accused NSA document leaker, to speak at the event and he used Google Hangouts to join via video from Moscow. According to a Business Insider story:
Snowden was in the video call using a Google profile under the name of “Ben,” but whoever set up the call hadn’t locked down the privacy settings. That meant that anyone could join — and they did.
First up was a man sitting on his bed, who started laughing when he realized that he was on a video call with Edward Snowden. It looked like he was chatting to someone on the phone, too. Snowden joked about the unexpected visitor, remarking “I see a guy in his bed.”
Another man who was simply trying to view the video conference likewise found himself on-screen, and used some colorful language when he did – for all to hear.
Such a public display of video-gone-wrong may be funny from the outside looking in, but probably your CEO wouldn’t be amused if it happened to him.