Google's Hangout feature, a competitive advantage?

Google+'s hangout feature is one of the few aspects of Google's attempt at social media connectivity that sets it apart from and perhaps makes it better than other competitors. You might say that it is a competitive advantage when compared to other companies that offer similar or substitute products.

Let's see what's in this space already:
  • Mainstream multi-person text conferencing: Any mainframe system, internet relay chat (IRC), instant messaging (IM)
  • Single point audio/video conferencing (site-to-site, peer-to-single-source-to-peer, one-site-to-many): any IM app with a video chat component, XBOX, Cisco, etc.
  • Shared immersion user environments: MMO (massive multiplayer online; typically refers to games), MUDs (multi-user dungeons)
Hangout looks to be a bidirectional multi-input audio/video conferencing, but is limited to up to ten people; though this is probably a bandwidth or capacity limiter. Here are some things you might not have noticed from using the app:
  • Each hangout generates a unique URL which can then be shared to invite others to a hangout; but, multiple hangouts that share the same circles of users cannot merge into a larger hangout.
  • It's browser-based, so like MMORTS (massive multiplayer real time strategy games), there's no software client to download, drivers to update; except for maybe the browser plug-in that Google chat and video also runs on.
  • It's also cloud-based, so having uptime, refresh rates, and latency issues like other multi-user environments are probably not an issue.
There's only one service that one-up's Hangout, and that is Second Life (and most other virtual 3-D audio/chat and motion animated worlds).

Is it sustainable? Depends on the total number of global users and who is going to pay for all that hosted bandwidth and live video streaming. Currently in the United States, the Internet is a shared cost system and everyone "pays" for it in some context. 

Will it normalize the fee-based video conferencing costs for businesses? Probably not, especially if you want to v/c with more than 10 people. 

Is it practical for mobile devices? At the moment, hangout doesn't support mobile devices. Though, if someone can create a video compression capability that can cache multiple streams of video content in a way that is cost-effective for the device user, then perhaps; but I don't think even commercially available technology is quite there yet.
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