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Isgoogleplusthehackerspace

On June 28th, 2011 Google released the Google+ social network (“Real-life sharing rethought for the web”) via invite-only and limited field testing. At this time it’s still not 100% open for anyone to join, as they test their new service, but more and more people are joining, many of them makers, hackers, engineers, and electronic hobbyists. On July 14th, 2011, Google announced it reached 10 million users in its first two weeks (as of 7/19/2011 they’re up to about 20M).

The service seems to be a current geek favorite because of the emphasis on privacy and control features, and it’s generally considered that it will become an alternative to Facebook. I’ve called Facebook the “RealPlayer” of social networks for taking too much for too long. It will be interesting to see what Google does if their social network becomes as popular.

For makers, something interesting started to happen almost immediately with the video collaboration feature. The video chat within Google+ is called “Hangouts” and you can have up to 10 people interact via video, text chat, YouTube, and screen images. Within the first week, makers started to experiment with Google+ Hangout video, and I immediately helped arrange the first “DIY electronics show-and-tell.” It was like a mini Maker Faire, Instructables front page, and hackerspace all rolled into one.

As I spoke to more makers, it started to become clear that Google+ Hangouts might just be the “next hackerspace,” not in meat space, but in the online world where skill sharing, project sharing, and collaboration can finally happen (more easily). There were and are other ways to do this, but Google+ Hangouts seem to be the shiny new toy at the moment.

And that’s what this week’s column is about: this new tool from Google and how makers, hackers, and innovators might end up using it. These are my notes from the first week in. I’ve also included a short how-to for streaming a 10-person Google+ Hangout to Ustream (a feature that is not available at this time). This allows 10 people to show their projects and for thousands of people to watch as audience members. I’m also going to share some thoughts and tips on how to get the best out of a Google+ Hangout video with makers, using an agenda-driven approach to keep things moving along. Let’s hangout!

Makers Seem to Like Google+ More Than Facebook

Pt 101332
First up, I’m not sure why, but makers didn’t really flock to Facebook in the same way as they’re adopting Google+. I really think it goes back to the maker mindset of being able to inspect, control, and understand how something works. With Facebook, it was a constantly changing contraption that seemed to always be out to get you. At least in its current form, Google+ is trying hard not to come across that way — for now, Google+ isn’t spam and games.

How It Works

In Google+ you manage contacts by putting them in circles. One of the first circles I made was “open source hardware.” It was all the people I could find on Google+ who make and release open source hardware. These are the folks I like to tune into.

Pt 101329

When I visit my Google+ page, I use that stream to see what folks are making and sharing.

First Experiment Trying a Show-and-Tell

Pt 101314-2

I’ve been running “Ask an Engineer” with Limor “ladyada” Fried since 2009 or so. One of the challenges is trying to video conference in guests. I’ve tried with Skype and a few other services, but none of them worked that well. As I started to experiment with Google+ Hangouts, the video feature “just worked:” a plugin was installed and I had up to 10 people chatting at once.

Pt 101333
As people came in to the Hangout and spoke, their window became the largest one, their name was on the browser title bar, and I was able to adjust the volume if needed. At this time there are not tools like you’d find on a text/IRC chat “kick/ban,” but that makes sense because you’re likely going to use this most often with Circles you made and trust.

My first attempt was an open-ended chat, just show up and talk. That didn’t work so well, and since everyone was kinda shy, I needed to prod folks to talk. So a week later I came up with an agenda: show-and-tell.

Pt 101334
If you visited the Google+ Hangout, you were asked to be prepared to show a project. This worked out great. I think the right amount of time is 10 or so people for about 30 minutes —- after that it gets hard on the host and the other 9 or so participants. Something worth mentioning is that when folks were done showing their projects, they didn’t want to leave —- there were more cool projects to see! So the idea of cycling out folks once they were done didn’t work out.

Consider these as my own notes that I’m sharing with you as you experiment.

Google also has a good page on how the Hangout invitations work.

Visibility of your Hangout

  • There are a few different ways people can discover that you’re hanging out:
  • If you invite people to join a Hangout, a post will appear in their stream telling them that there’s a Hangout going on, along with all the people in that Hangout currently.
  • If 25 or fewer people are invited, they’ll receive a notification that they’ve been invited to join a Hangout.
  • If you invite individuals that are signed in to chat, they’ll receive an IM with a link to join.
  • If someone invited to a Hangout tries to start their own, they’ll be told that there’s a Hangout already going on and they may want to join that one instead.
  • Since the Hangout you’re in is visible by the circles of the other participants, people you don’t know may learn that you’re hanging out.

One of the biggest requests was “can you stream or record” the show-and-tell. The recording worked out fine —- any screen capture software works (I used Snapz Pro on a Mac), but for streaming it was a little trickier. I think I’ve figured out a way, and I’ll get to that at the end of this article.

Hackerspaces, Communities, and Customer Service

In a previous Soapbox I talked about re-tooling our public libraries and moving them more towards a TechShop/hackerspace model for some type of information sharing and forward-looking skill building for the next generation of artists, designers, scientists, and engineers. What’s a hackerspace?

Hackerspace
Image: “DIY Freaks Flock to ‘Hacker Spaces’ Worldwide,” Wired.com

A hackerspace is usually a membership-based location featuring workshops, tools, and people who generally like to make things.

A hackerspace or hackspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace or creative space) is a location where people with common interests, usually in computers, technology, science or digital or electronic art can meet, socialize and/or collaborate. A hackerspace can be viewed as an open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things. Many hackerspaces participate in the use and development of free software and alternative media and can be found in infoshops or social centers.

There are hundreds of hackerspaces that have appeared, almost overnight, around the world. From my recollection over the last decade, the ones in Europe were really appealing, many makers were traveling around the world (Mitch Altman, for example), and eventually word spread. Now, just about every state in the USA has one, and most large cities have hackerspaces.

Pt 101323
Workshops and a Dorkbot-style “show-and-tell” are using the centers of a lot of weekly activity at many hackerspaces. As I experimented, a few different hackerspaces said they were already experimenting with Google+ Hangout to share their projects with members who couldn’t make it to the physical space, and with other hackerspaces.

Pt 101325
There seems to be an almost generic desire to share projects and skills if you’re a hackerspace member. And while free-form chat is usually filled with dead air, waiting your turn to talk, and some general geek-awkwardness, showing something you made does not: what it is, why you made it, what it does, and the parts you used.

Pt 101321
Pt 101322
Hack-a-Day (a site I started almost a decade ago) has already started making plans for doing a Hack-a-Day Google+ Hangout — people can immediately imagine what they’d like to share and show. One of the commenters in the Google+ Hangout said, “This is like being inside a video version of Hack-a-Day” while they were in the chat.

Pt 101326
Even Dell is jumping in and considering doing customer service via Google+ Hangouts. We’ve all been promised “video phones” for decades, but Google+ Hangouts seems to be capturing the imagination of many.

Perhaps it’s because identity is part of it —- you somewhat need to be a real person with circles of friends —- and since Google knows everything about you, maybe there’s less of a chance of Google+ Hangouts turning into Chatroulette.

Pt 101324
There are some timing issues to work out, of course. While Google doesn’t have lists of the upcoming Hangouts or integrated calendar services, etc., some have already made a site where you can publish your Google+ Hangout.

Pt 101327

I’m sure a hackerspace-specific list will appear here shortly.

What’s Next?

As Google+ evolves and allows brands and non-people entities to create profiles and Hangouts easily, I suspect hackerspaces will end up having shared accounts. I think this is when we’ll see a nationwide event listing specifically for show-and-tells.

Pt 101335
You can imagine sites like MAKE, Hack-a-Day, Instructables, and hundreds of hackerspaces using this service to show and share projects, as well as teach small workshops.

We’ll see expert-led panels, and we’ll see creative hackerspaces use Hangouts for fundraising and extending their workshop reach. We’ll see hackerspaces coordinate skill sharing and working on projects together. It’s not because video conferencing is new, but Google+ Hangout (in my opinion) is something actually new for many people, and makers in particular are good at taking tools and services beyond their initial design.

And that’s the next and final part of my article: everyone wanted to stream the show-and-tells outside of the 10 people presenting. I’m sure there are better ways of doing this, but here’s what I did.

Streaming a Google+ Hangout to Ustream

Just to recap, this is a really fast how-to. Over the weekend I helped organize the first “show-and-tell” of electronics projects over Google+ Hangout video, about 1 hour before “Ask an Engineer” (overview here). Since there is a limit of 10 people who can participate and not an audience-only option “stream” at this time, I spent some time on Sunday trying to see if there was a somewhat easy way to do a Google+ Hangout with 10 people and stream that Google+ Hangout to Ustream at the same time. I’m sure eventually Google will have a “stream to YouTube live” audience option, but for now, I was able to do a successful test by doing the following:

Pt 101341
In Google+ start a Hangout, and add the Circles of people or public to allow folks to join your Hangout. Make sure to get this going and let Google+ Hangout get access to your camera first.

Pt 101340

Next up, I used Ustream Producer Pro. It’s $199 but since the live engineering chat I do with Adafruit needs the pro version for all the features, $199 is a good deal for what it does. The pro version has “Launch Desktop Presenter” that can capture and send any window/screen stuff to the live stream. I think Make: Live uses WireCast, and it’s the same thing. When I started up a Google+ Hangout, I then opened the Ustream app (Mac), and it ignored the camera since it was in use, and I chose the Google+ Hangout window when I chose the desktop presenter.

Pt 101342
If and where there is an open source alternative or anything else, I’ll try that. If you have a testable better idea, post in the comments.

Pt 101336
Anyway, it worked, but even on my business-class Time Warner connection and speedy Macbook Pro, stuff wasn’t as fast as usual. During one of the tests, Ustream stopped streaming, and another time Google+ Hangout stopped hanging out. But for the most part, it worked. We’ll see how it goes next week when I try this for real :)

I know there are folks out there experimenting too, so again, if you have a better way of doing this, please post up in the comments. Since Google is likely watching all of this to figure out new features, a “view-only” option was brought up a lot so it could be watched. And for the Ustream developers, a Ustream Producer Pro with 10-person Google+ Hangout integration as a video source would be handy. It works with Desktop Presenter, but that’s not the best way to do this.

I think eventually Google will likely have a “stream live to YouTube” option since they’re testing that now. And they’ll probably have a way to record the Hangouts (or someone else will). There isn’t an API for Google+ yet, but it seems to be in the works.

New Tools are Fun!

Anyway, this is one of those speculative articles, as always. Will this tool end up being something we see and hear a lot of in the maker world? I think so, but only time will tell. For now, I’m meeting more makers than ever, sharing more projects, and seeing many people who I’ve never met in person. Out of all the things technology can do for us, connecting with others and sharing what we make is one of the most important, if not the most important use of any new service I can thing of.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. JT Hernandez says:

    So, do you have a list of people worth following on Google+?

    1. Anonymous says:

      yup, my open source hardware circle.

  2. Addidis says:

    I gave this some thought the other night. Hackerspaces , libraries, your awesome idea of hackerlibraries all have one central thread they all deal in physical merchandise . You get to put your hands on it , you can use their tools be it knowledge in a book , or a lathe .  This is more about sharing of ideas rather then something physical. Perhaps the ability to run cloud development tools , in full version form in them would add such an appeal.  

  3. “On June 28th, 2011 Google released the Google+ social network
    (“Real-life sharing rethought for the web”) via invite-only and limited
    field testing. At this time it’s still not 100% open for anyone to join,
    as they test their new service, but more and more people are joining,
    many of them makers, hackers, engineers, and electronic hobbyists.”

    That’s not even a month ago. You’ve only had an opportunity to do TWO video hangouts over at Adafruit. Yet you’re making claims like “First up, I’m not sure why, but makers didn’t really flock to Facebook in the same way as they’re adopting Google+.”

    NOT. ENOUGH. DATA. POINTS. More research and thought in your next article, please.

    1. Anonymous says:

      george,

      i’ve talked to dozens of makers in person, over hangouts and more – given the time i’ve had i think i did observe this accurately and gave it a lot of thought. you can also look at the hack-a-day hangouts with hundreds of comments between all these efforts as well as the google+ posts from all the makers, specifically in my “open source hardware” circle.

      i could wait for months or write an article as it’s happening. i’d rather cover this as it happens and update it if needed. there’s always risk in being wrong, i’m willing to take that risk.

      you’re welcome to come up with more data points if you’d like that suggest something else is going on too.

      i’m pretty sure i am correct about makers adopting google+ faster than facebook, in the coming months we’ll see where makers are talking more – facebook or google+ and how they are using the tools.

      i’m more than willing to update this article if it turns out it’s not correct in predicting what’s going to happen with google+ vs facebook in the maker space.

  4. Another good soapbox, Phil. You’re starting to become a must-read column for me (extra points this week since you put my ugly mug up there!).

    Anyway, a caution about one of the tutorials out there. There’s a video about using a program called “camtasia” that can be used to capture screens…don’t bother. I lost all of our episode of The Amp Hour last week because it saved to a proprietary format (my mistake, I was trying to save it to an .avi). Then the program was incapable of processing the captured stream, so now it’s locked in that format, never to be seen again. I like how you guys have George capture Ask-an-Engineer remotely, though that has limitations as well. Between limitations of streaming, recording and bandwidth, I think there’s a LOT of room to improve, and uptake by the maker community (along with the public at large) will hopefully drive software makers to improve upon products that are already out there. Then we’ll just have to take on those ISPs and their durn upload speed capping (grrr). 

    The real power isn’t in content providers though. It’s in the everyday connections. It’s people setting up a time with their contacts to show stuff off and really have a face to face interaction. There’s some real power in that, especially in a group setting. Having the chats like you’re doing at adafruit or that the hackerspaces are doing is important though, because it hopefully connects people that otherwise wouldn’t have met. Like hanging out at a hackerspace. Woot, full circle.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @twitter-9530722:disqus thank you!

      1) yah, i used snapzpro on a mac, saves as standard formats. for “ask an engineer” having someone remotely record has been key to the production process, i can’t run the show and do that – plus computers still aren’t that good at all this.

      2) isps still have a lot of work to do, they want to cap uploads and downloads, but at the same time the future is video, up and down, all the time. there’s not going back.

      3) you’re right, it’s all about sharing – all we have is each other on this rock :)

      1. As with most things in electronics, it’s unfortunately much faster and better to do it in hardware, which also increases the complexity. Looking a the TWiT Skyposaurus, for instance, shows that they use 6 Mac Minis going into a Tricaster(!). Granted, they are a full time streaming operation, but I view them as some of the leaders in how they piece together video live. G+ hangouts are a good step forward towards doing some of it in software, but for the recording pieces, I think a second machine is still key.

        Another piece of software that likely will help people out with sharing desktops and other things during G+ hangouts is ManyCam. It basically lets you control what you push out to your video stream. So this could mean instead of showing a piece of code or output from a monitor by putting your webcam on it, you can share your desktop directly. It might help in future versions of “BRING OUT YER ‘TRONIX” or whatever the final name of the share time is. 

        1. Anonymous says:

          yah, it think since TWiT does this for a living they’ve figured it out – from what i recall they have giant net connections and stream services to move stuff along. 6 computers to do it right sounds accurate.

          i will check out manycam! thanks!

  5. Steve Hoefer says:

    I hope that Google will add broadcasting to hangouts (ie: people can watch but not participate), but in the meantime thanks for sharing the ustream info.

    The very first time I saw a Hangout I thought it was the elusive solution to my Hack Roulette idea to connect hacker/maker spaces through video.  My original idea was unworkable for a bunch of reasons, but the quick uptake in Makers on G+ has shown they’re popular. I’m not sure anyone knows what they’re really for yet, but any Maker knows a useful tool when then they see one.  I know The Amp Hour (weekly podcast of electronics awesome) is also messing with Hangouts to see what they can do for them.

  6. I hope that Hackerspaces creates a list of google+ hangouts related to show and tell or hacking soon!

    1. Anonymous says:

      @twitter-297565579:disqus i bet that will happen within days or weeks!

  7. Haroun Kola says:

    Thanks for a great read. Its fun to play around like this, and a live stream to youtube, would be the holygrail.

  8. I think the Google+Hangouts it a really great idea.  I did not see it live but the recorded show was very interesting showing what people had made.  I have just recently started watching “Ask an Engineer” and it has become a favorite show of mine.  Being from Iowa there are not a lot of tech people to talk to so I always have to “simplify” what I am talking about.  We need a Hackerspace here badly!  I mentor on the FIRST High School Robotics team so there is a chance we can do some Hackerspace through that connection to the Kids.  I work as an artist building electronic solar Art Bots using recycled and found stuff using B.E.A.M style parts for my Bots but I want to expand these using microcontrollers and sensors.  This kind of sharing the information is what we all should be doing.  When I am at a show I share all the information I can about my bots so others can build them or something like them.
    Great work!
    Brad Howland

  9. Haydn Jones says:

    I haven’t got a google+ account, but i just started using hackerspaces as I am part of a group setting hackspace cardiff. I am finding, that we are having to go betewwn google docs, twitter, groups, irc and its a bit of a mess. I think google+ would be the way to go when we can all join it.

  10. Nice post, but I think you’re severely undervaluing hackerspaces with this comparison. Don’t get me wrong; It’s nice to have an efficient tool like Google+ Hangouts to facilitate this kind of maker sharing, but hackerspaces have a much more to offer than that! 

    The high-res shared physical space and pooled resources of hackerspaces are what makes them thrive. Having access to a 3D printer or a laser cutter at a hackerspace.. Being able to sit next to someone as you teach them how to solder.. 5 people all working on a big behemoth of a project all night.. Learning by doing.. These are the things that make hackerspaces fantastic places for makers, and there is no equivalent for that.

    I welcome any online service that facilitates maker sharing. Your “Ask an Engineer” show and tell segment was great. But all the mailing lists, IRC channels, Facebook groups, and yes even Google+ Hangouts in the world can’t go toe-to-toe with a real-life, meatspace, tool-sharing, eye-contact making, handshaking, physical hackerspace. To suggest that an internet service could replace that does a disservice to hackerspaces. Now if Google wanted to start opening neighborhood hackerspaces… THAT is a different story.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @twitter-226673188:disqus it’s “in addition to” not “instead of” – hackerspaces will adopt this tool, as part of the *many* tools they use to share.

      no one said “replace”.

      all that said, google does have a hackerspace internally – so anything is possible. i’d like to see google buy techshop and have a google techshop in every major city :)

      1. I think there was a good exampled on the Hackerspace mailing list today. A guy in rural New Zealand who wanted to start a space. More than likely the population in his town would not support it. But now he could use the hangout feature to participate some/most of the time and then stop by when he’s in the town where there’s actually one located.

      2. johngineer says:

        I have a feeling they’d encounter more untapped talent if they opened a google techshop in every minor city too.

        1. Anonymous says:

          that would work too :)

        2. Anonymous says:

          that would work too :)

  11. johngineer says:

    The real benefit here will be when these hangouts evolve (devolve?) into meatspace meetings and orgs. G+ hangouts make a good entry point for this because you don’t have to travel or allocate 6-hour+ blocks of your day to go somewhere >> meet people >> return home. Ideally there will be show+tell hangouts organized geographically, where people from the same area can meet and share common interests. And hopefully G+ will add some moderator functions too, to further enable such a format.

  12. johngineer says:

    The real benefit here will be when these hangouts evolve (devolve?) into meatspace meetings and orgs. G+ hangouts make a good entry point for this because you don’t have to travel or allocate 6-hour+ blocks of your day to go somewhere >> meet people >> return home. Ideally there will be show+tell hangouts organized geographically, where people from the same area can meet and share common interests. And hopefully G+ will add some moderator functions too, to further enable such a format.

  13. I think these hangouts are cool and allow people to connect and share projects, but they should not be considered as an forever alternative.  And as someone who spends hours maintaining Instructables.com i see a lot of difference with digital to physical meet-ups. Both have their value, but i really hope that digital hangouts lead to more hackerspace creation. That said, i will try to dip in on the next one. :-)

    1. Anonymous says:

      i think it will be “in addition to” as well as a natural evolution of hackerspaces, not a replacement…

  14. Anonymous says:

    The limit of 10 people is pretty annoying, especially for a great host like AdaFruit. The UStream sharing looks like a good hack to address the watcher-only crew.  
    Here’s a somewhat complex hack for 20 participants:
    * 2 hangouts with 2 Ustreams
    folks in one hangout can watch the other stream and comment on it in their own or a shared chat .
    It might stress your net connection, and require a couple computers & operators but perhaps worthy of an experiment.   The hangout hosts would not need to be co-located, which should reduce the bandwidth required by the host.

    I’m going to try running a hangout during our public meeting tonight (6-9pm HST, 9-midnite PDT, 12-3am EDT).

  15. Anonymous says:

    The limit of 10 people is pretty annoying, especially for a great host like AdaFruit. The UStream sharing looks like a good hack to address the watcher-only crew.  
    Here’s a somewhat complex hack for 20 participants:
    * 2 hangouts with 2 Ustreams
    folks in one hangout can watch the other stream and comment on it in their own or a shared chat .
    It might stress your net connection, and require a couple computers & operators but perhaps worthy of an experiment.   The hangout hosts would not need to be co-located, which should reduce the bandwidth required by the host.

    I’m going to try running a hangout during our public meeting tonight (6-9pm HST, 9-midnite PDT, 12-3am EDT).

  16. grrr, still no invite!

  17. Has anyone had any dice with getting a hangout and ustream to work at the same time? This is what happens to mine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OOF0FpKiYk&feature=player_detailpage#t=85s

    We had the Robot Party as a hangout, and it was really fun! However, spontaneous hangouts haven’t really been successful on my end. Maybe when more people get addicted to Google+ it will be better :D

  18. Olov Sundström says:

    I understand the usability benefits of G+ but i also find it deeply problematic that Google is aiming to gain control over even more of our data. One of the great benefits of hacker spaces is that most of them exist independently from the tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft etc, that they show that alternative ways of innovation are possible outside the huge corporation structures. Since most hackers have the technological understanding to see what kind of problems the centralization of data-storage leads to it would be better if we could work to build alternative ways of communicating. This seem to be one promising project: http://freedomboxfoundation.org/ – but i’m sure there are many other ways to go.

  19. Mandiquita says:

    Chatroulette 2.0: the new version. You can spy other conversations and create a group to chat.