Facebook has Facebook Messenger, Twitter has direct messaging, and Google+ has Hangouts. However, Hangouts is a bit more than just the private messenger behind Google+ and Gmail, as Hangouts also powers one of the better live video broadcasting platforms on the net right now. Hangouts is an app with many tricks, talents, and features, and as a Google product, it crisscrosses several platforms, but none so much and so well as Google+.
So, anyone wanna hangout?
Google+ — the second home for Hangouts
If you're not using the Android app, iOS app, or Chrome app for Hangouts, there are two places you'll find it embedded online. The first is a miniature Hangouts app inside of Gmail's website, and the second is Google+. Technically there is a third home for Hangouts inside of Google Inbox, but as that is an invite-only system right now and you aren't likely to use Inbox and Gmail together, we'll leave it as an honorable mention for now. There's a whole tab in the Google+ menu dedicated to Hangouts, and one of the three persistent buttons in the menu bar of Google+ is a toggle to bring up your conversation list.
This tab in Google+ is helpful not only for keeping up with your conversations, but also for showcasing Live Hangouts on Air. Hangouts on Air allow anyone with a Google+ account and a laptop to try their hand at making a podcast, a how-to show, a cultured debate, or a call-in global concert. My meteorologist even uses Hangouts on Air for live-streaming his storm chasing when severe weather invades Central Texas, and a large part of that decision was the ease with which Hangouts on Air can be shared from Google+ and YouTube to help get the word out when severe weather is coming.
Hangout with anyone
If you want to privately contact someone on Google+, you have two options: you can share a post only with them and have a private chat hosted in that post, or you can send them a message on Hangouts. Most users have a hangouts icon right in the hovercard in their browser that allows you to message them without ever leaving the stream. Now, if this is someone that hasn't circled you or someone who don't know very well, Google+ might be a faster method of contact than Hangouts. How can that be if more people use Hangouts than Google+?
Well, Google Hangouts has some settings that control who can contact you, allowing you to limit contact from certain circles and from anyone who isn't in your circles. More often than not when your message doesn't show up in someone's Hangouts conversations, it's because they have only allowed you to send them an invite or they haven't allowed you to contact them at all. If you're trying to ease someone into Hangouts and they're getting Hangouts from strangers they don't want, you can direct them to How others get in touch with you. Once there, they can set how and if strangers can contact them.
If you're not getting a response in Hangouts, then try sharing something only with them on Google+. Even if they turned off push notifications for those outside their circles, the post will show up in Other notifications under regular notifications. They may not see it fast, but at least they'll see it the next time they check their notifications.
Once you start a conversation with someone, things are relatively simple. Messages are synced across devices and platforms, so you can start talking on your phone, then keep it up on your Laptop, your work computer, and your tablet throughout the day. So long as you're logged into Google and on either Google+, Gmail, or the Hangouts app, the messages with follow you wherever you go.
When you upload videos and photos into the conversation, they'll be saved in a Google+ Photos folder for your conversation. To access it, you can either find the album in Google+ Photos, or click any photo from the conversation in the browser chat or desktop app. If you're not comfortable with Google+ hanging on to the photos from your Hangouts conversations, you can remove your photos using the drop-down menu in the right-hand corner of the screen above, or you can turn off the history on that conversation, though keep in mind that should you turn off history, your messages may not follow you to every device and messages might also be erased before you see them.
Video Hangouts and Hangouts on Air
You can start a video Hangout with up to 10 people, and if you're just looking to kill some time and hopefully find a fun conversation, you can start a video hangout and invite the friends in your circles to join. If you're actually planning your little get together, well, that's when Google+ becomes very, very helpful to your Hangout endeavors.
In the Events page on Google+, you can create a plain-old regular event, or you can plan a Hangout. When you plan a Hangout, you can invite people to participate, or to watch, it becomes easier to direct an audience to your Hangout, and with Google+ hosting the Hangout on Air, you can then also take advantage of the Showcase and Q&A section to help get your audience participating. By planning a Hangout, the event will also show up in an Upcoming box in that user's stream, and they can add it to Google Calendar so they won't forget to tune in. More cross-platform cooperation to help make your Hangout a success!
For some, the best part of Hangouts and Google+ is that you don't have to have Google+ in order to join a video Hangout on Android or iOS anymore. So if your iPad-only grandma wants to Hangout with her Android-touting grandkids, you don't have to try and coax her through setting up a Google+ account — though that's right here if you want to try.
So, does the buddy-buddy nature of Hangouts and Google+ warm your heart, or are you wishing that Hangouts would be cut out and moved to it's own site and standalone service already? Do you like the Hangout on Air integration with Google+, especially during our weekly podcasts livestreams? Have you circled us on Google+ yet? Well, you should, and then you should head down into the comments to tell us what you think.
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