Your future host? Maria Korolov

One of the latest internet features that has caught our imagination at the China Speakers Bureau, is the so-called Hangouts-on-air at Google+ as a new way to organize the China debate online. We expect we will be able to launch this for our purposes very soon into 2012; our first orientation will be of course on our current stable of speakers, but otherwise, any China debate that makes sense would be welcome.

First a short history for those who are not yet familiar with Google+ and its launch.

Google+ was the latest effort of Google to set up a social network. Launched last summer, Google+ is with 62 million participants in December 2011 growing like crazy, although it is not yet close to other competitors in terms of numbers.

What makes Google+ stronger than earlier failed efforts like Orkut, Google Wave and Google Buzz is that it is slowly consolidating all other Google features under the Google+ umbrella. Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Picassa, Google reader and all other services  will merge, and – for example – existing Gmail users will be gently pushed into Google+.

The feature we are looking for are what is called “Hangouts”, a free video conference system, initially introduced as a social tool. But especially in education it has already been discovered as a useful tool that is going to change education in a profound way. At first, it was limited to ten participants, but that barrier has been removed now, and you can expand the number of participants, and even broadcast if live on YouTube.

By using the Google+ system of dividing your network into different circles (a bit of jargon comes in handy), you can define who can take part. Of course, there is an option to share a hangout with the public at large.

In the past months Hangouts have been developing fast: playing YouTube video’s has been included in the Hangouts, and the “Hangouts with extra’s” feature allows to share any screen (including Google Docs) with the participants.

We have run some test-hangouts with people based in China, and there does not seem to be any real problem (although a VPN would be useful, as in many other case).

A few months ago “Hangouts-on-air” have been started with an exchange between some celebrities: it works as a virtual broadcasting station and session can be recorded on YouTube, and can be shared (even embedded at websites) for those who are not able to attend the original hangout session. Not surprising, you can also take part from your mobile phone.

In the attached video you find some people discussing different options at this stage.

Now, what is for us still missing to start this new feature at the China Speakers Bureau? Actually, to major barriers have to be taken.

First, hangouts-on-air is not yet available for all earthlings. The whole started off with a virtual meeting between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, but has exploded since. Most of the available YouTube video’s still show people testing the different bells and whistlers, but we expect this tool will be available for all within weeks, and not months. While we cannot use it yet, time is getting ready to make the first preparations.

Second, while Google+ is growing like crazy, very few people from our networks (including our speakers) are already active on this network. That is of course a main drawback, for any debate: the availability of an audience. So, if you are interested, I would encourage you to sign up for the service, and register both at my profile page and at the China Speakers Bureau page. While it makes sense to consolidate this China debate on our CSB-page, anti-spam provisions make it very hard to expand the number of followers now, so my private page makes more sense at this stage.

We do not need a huge audience to take of – especially when we can record and save the effort to our websites – but a dozen people for take-off would be useful

Let me know if you have more questions or remarks.

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