Will Google+ Hangouts Put an End to Face to Face Meetings?

The introduction of Google+ Hangouts was a bright spot in a product launch that ultimately fizzled out as users trickled back to using Facebook. The service was widely praised for providing an easy way for people to communicate face-to-face over the web. Its status was bolstered further as a plethora of celebrities ranging from President Obama to the Dalai Lama used the service to hold hangouts with their fans. Even the Muppets hosted a Hangout. Many were predicting a new era of videoconferencing.

Was the service really destined to end face to face meetings, though?

Image courtesy of missha, Flickr

Right or Wrong?
To be fair, Hangouts does get a lot right. It’s extremely accessible, requiring only a browser for most individuals. As a web application, it also removes many networking concerns of users operating behind corporate intranets and firewalls. It has an elegant interface, is simple to access and because it is tied to Google+, it also provides a convenient way for users to access their contacts. It is a useful tool with a lot of positive aspects.

However, Google+ Hangouts’ accessibility may also be its greatest weakness. Hangouts is intrinsically linked to Google+, requiring a Google+ account to use it. This may not seem like a huge issue, considering Skype also requires a user account. If a user does not already have a Google account though, the signup process for Google+ is substantially more involved than it is for Skype. Moreover, Hangouts is far from full-featured. For example, there are still no moderation features, which is frustrating for many Hangouts hosts who feel such a feature should have been present upon release.

Past Mistakes
Even if Google+ could overcome these limitations, consider that Hangouts is far from the first attempt at a videoconferencing solution. Skype has featured videoconferencing since the early 2000s. In spite of that, how meetings are conducted has not significantly changed since then. For example, when was the last time you heard of an employer conducting a job interview over Skype? As another illustration, the capability to telecommute in order to work has been available for years, yet employers still prefer to hire local candidates to work on-site.

There is a persistent aversion to using videoconferencing in business situations. It is true that the low quality of early Skype videoconferences were inappropriate for business applications. However, even with the higher quality of modern videoconferencing, virtual meetings have still not gained much traction. Hangouts is used by students for study groups and by public figures to reach out to their fans. Yet, businesses do not appear to make much use of the service.

The problem is that there will always be inefficiencies with videoconferencing. Whether it is a major issue, such as a disconnection, or a minor issue, such as having to adjust the microphone volume, people prefer to work in the least disruptive and most efficient manner possible. Many times, that means a face-to-face meeting. So while it’s reasonable to expect videoconferencing services to grow more popular as time goes on; it’s probably a good idea to keep practicing your handshake, because you’ll likely still need to use it more days than not.

This article was written on behalf of De Vere Venues a London meeting rooms and conference venue provider.