As I mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to try the Google+ Hangouts feature to attempt to do a video chat version of the old EchoLink chat that some of us used to have a few years ago on Saturdays. Today we took it for a spin, and I think I really like how it shaped up. We ended up having a total of 12 participants, with about half of the people actively participating, including AK6L, OK4BX, W0EA, LA3PNA, and WG0AT (Steve the Goathiker).
I've never used the G+ Hangouts before, so I didn't really know what to expect, other than a video chat. It turns out that it's quite a bit more useful than that. For example, you can do screensharing with your PC desktop or a particular window. Tomas OK4BX came prepared with an excellent slideshow presentation of the DDS-driven MEPT that he and his father recently put on the air. W0EA was able to show us the schematic and PCB layout of the amplifier T/R switch that he just sent out for manufacturing. You are also able to switch between multiple cams while in the Hangout, which AK6L used to give us some nice closeups of his projects. I've got a USB microscope which is basically a webcam with a high-power lens, so it would work great for showing off close-ups of things as necessary. We also got a neat treat to a live view of WG0AT's goats Rooster and Peanut, courtesy of his iPhone connection to the Hangout.
The only potential downside that I could see when compared to EchoLink is the free-for-all format versus the way that EchoLink facilitates traditional roundtables. It wasn't really a problem for our group, but I was at a bit of a loss on how to handle moderation. In the future, I think we'll start off with a sign-up queue to speak, then end with a free-form chat. There's also no native list of callsigns to call upon, but using a Hangout plugin (Lower Third), you can add a caption to your video stream with your name and callsign just like a TV chyron.
The overall impression was that the hangout went better than expected. We had some really interesting information presented and the turnout was excellent for a first time. I think this definitely is superior to the EchoLink chat. Now that I have an idea of what's going on, it should run even smoother next time. If you are not already a member, go to our Google+ Community page (Ham Radio Homebrewing) and join. The next time there is a Hangout, you'll get an invitation. We've scheduled the next one for two weeks from today due to it being close to Christmas next weekend. I'm not sure if this will continue on a weekly or every other week schedule in the future, but we will continue these Hangouts on a regular schedule.