I know a good few Space Tweeps have landed on Google+ recently and I think, for the moment, it represents an exciting new social media outlet for our experiences and ideas. It’s invite-only testing for now but already I have over 50 people in my Space Tweeps circle, and I’m sure there are many more!

One feature I’m itching to try and leverage for open discussions with other Tweeps is the ‘Google Hangouts.’ Essentially it’s video/audio chat with really awesome group integration.

Hangouts are easy to join if you already have Google+ and you can either use video/audio or audio only if you prefer. The only setup you need to do is to ensure the Google Video and Audio plugin is installed on your computer and then setup you microphone and video camera.

You can do this two ways:

  • When you join your first Hangout
  • If you want to turn up prepared (it takes about 5 minutes to download and install) you can click ‘Start a Hangout’ and the popup window will ask you to install the plugin, once you’ve installed the plugin and it is working you can close the Hangout window without starting.

However you choose to do it, here’s a quick guide to installing the plugin:

  1. Ensure your microphone and (optionally) video camera/webcam are plugged in and working correctly. You can do this in a number of ways, depending on which Operating System you are running (Hangouts work on Windows, Mac and most Linux computers).
  2. Open Google+ and navigate to your Home page.
  3. If you have not run Hangout before you will be asked to install the Google Audio and Video plugin.
  4. Download and install the plugin. How this works again varies depending on your computer’s operating system.
    • On Mac you need an Intel Mac running OS X 10.5 or later. Clicking the ‘Install Plugin’ button in the Hangout window will take you to a page where you can download a .DMG file containing the installer. Download the file, open it (it will mount as a new disk in your Finder) and run the installer. Once the installer is finished Hangouts will work straight away. I tested in Chrome and Safari, I expect Firefox also works.
    • On Windows, you will need XP or later, 32-bit and 64-bit are supported. I tested Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 9.0 (not 64-bit version) and Mozilla Firefox and all seem to support it. Clicking the ‘Install Plugin’ button on the Hangout window will take you to a page where you can click to install it. Clicking on the second ‘Install Plugin’ button will automatically download and install the plugin. If you install it in one browser, some other browsers may require you to go through the install procedure the first time you use it there, it won’t usually re-download the plugin, just update that browser to point to it.
    • On Linux there are 32-bit and 64-bit .DEB and .RPM packages appropriate for Intel and AMD x86 and x86_64 machines. The packages will suit many common distributions, including Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, CentOS, Red Hat and others. I also suspect it only works on Firefox or similar Mozilla-based browsers, but I haven’t confirmed that at this time. Clicking the ‘Install Plugin’ button on the Hangout window will take you to a page where you can choose which package to download. The system I tested it on (running Ubuntu 10.04 64-bit) selected the correct package automatically. Download the package and install it using your Linux distribution’s package manager.
  5. Once the plugin is installed, go back to the Hangout window and refresh. If there is no refresh button you can do this by pressing Ctrl-R (Windows & Linux) or Cmd-R (Mac). If the plugin is not recognised straight away, you may need to close all you browser windows and restart the browser.
  6. If the plugin is working you should see a setup screen. Here you can test if your microphone, speakers (or headphones) and video camera are working okay. Please note in all cases you may need to alter settings outside Hangouts to ensure they are working or selected.
  7. You’re set to go! You can either start your own Hangout or join/receive an invite to someone else’s.

I really believe Hangouts are going to be a powerful tool for talking between many social groups. It’s easy to setup and allows mass communication in small or large groups (I’ve seen hangouts of up to 30 people so far – could be chaotic!! :) ). I hope some Tweeps will join me or start their own Hangouts and we can start using this powerful tool.

Currently I’m not planning any regular Hangout times, however I’m open to suggestions and ideas about times, days of the week, eyc. I’d love to get something regular off the ground!