Google just disrupted the conference business with Hangouts On Air

If you organize conferences and similar events, your future in terms of how you organize and price your events just got really interesting.

If you’re a conference-goer, events that might be out of reach to you for reasons of distance and/or total cost including travel and accommodation, just got equally interesting.

It’s all down to Google+ Hangouts On Air, the new live-broadcast feature of the video chat service that’s a mainstay of the Google+ social network.

This morning, I took part in two sessions at the LeWeb conference currently taking place in London, via a Hangout On Air parachuted in, so to speak, with my computer webcam and broadband internet connection.


From the comfort of my home office, I was actually part of the event, joining in discussion with people who were speakers at the event physically there in front of the crowd.

To give you an idea of that, check the photo above – taken by LeWeb attendee Raphaël Goumain – that shows LeWeb  host Loic Le Meur, on the right; next to him are, respectively, Bradley Horowitz, Vice President of Product Management, Google+ (meaning, Google+ is his baby); and two people from Cadbury’s and Kraft (I didn’t get their names, unfortunately, and can’t find them on the LeWeb programme). Bradley is the face on the huge screen on the left; I’m in the one on the right. Talk about scale!

So the HOA (get used to that abbreviation) was about joining Loic and Bradley and being part of their conversation. Each of us joining via the HOA – my fellow participants were Chris Dancy, Evgeny Tchebotarev and Guillaume Thomas, all of us expertly “minded” by Frederick Van Johnson – had no grand plan, no script or list of pre-agreed Q&A, just what we all brought to the party, what we might be able to add to the event overall.

Each of us had a chance to ask questions – I got one in about enterprise use of Google+ which Adam Tinworth expertly live blogged – and indeed enriched what otherwise might have been the usual kind of to-and-fro chat you typically see in any conference (good though it would undoubtedly have been).

And all this broadcast live as it was happening, over the web at YouTube, for anyone who could access the video site to view in real time. And that live broadcast was automatically recorded and published to the public web. You can see the recording, and many others videos, at LeWeb’s YouTube channel.

Wait a minute, you say – this isn’t new, you can already do video streaming from  conferences. Indeed, that’s true with companies like Ustream offering this (which they did at LeWeb in previous years). There’s also desktop tools like WebEx that will stream live video although I wouldn’t do that at a conference.

But, I would argue, these are fairly complex in comparison to Google’s offering and in some cases, cost quite a bit. Plus they’re rather rigid with logins and passwords to keep access tightly controlled whereas G+ HOA are open to all via just a browser and webcam and cost you nothing (although I imagine a pricing model will evolve, perhaps also supported by ads by some event organizers – new sponsorship opportunities – rather than paying money).

Apart from specifics like I’ve mentioned, what strikes me most about this is the evolutionary effect it will have on event management and event-going-to from now on.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that today’s use of Google+ Hangouts On Air at LeWeb in London is the first such use at a major public event.


In the future, I can see a conference with, say, 1,000 people physically at the venue, and 10,000 or more participating via watching the live video streams and the subsequent recordings, all the while adding their comments, questions and perspectives via Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Salesforce Chatter, whatever means are at hand that let you be part of the conversation and share your thoughts with others online.

And it doesn’t have to be on such a large scale – think of it for small-group events, too: a panel discussion, for example, or a breakfast meeting. Even internally within organizations (listen to what Bradley Horowitz had to say about that).

Welcome to the future. If you can imagine it, it looks terrific!

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Yousaf

    Hangouts is probably the main thing that Google+ has against Facebook at the moment. I hope they will innovate more in the social sector.

    • Neville Hobson

      It’s certainly a differentiator that captures the imagination, Yousaf, when you see what some people are doing. And if you listen to what Bradley Horowitz said, plenty more to come overall in Google+. Maybe your hope will be met.

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