Half-baked Google Hangouts

A few months ago, my company moved to Google Apps for mail/calendaring/conferencing. Leaving aside the good and the bad, there’s been one big change: we now use Google Hangouts for the majority of our video conferencing and meetings.

That has made things a lot simpler—no more needing to look for the conference number, or trying to figure out everyone’s Skype username—but it’s come with one big downside:

###Google Hangouts is sort of a half-baked piece of crap. At least the video side.###

Let’s start with the easiest part. The Hangout video link that gets generated for a meeting isn’t included in a standard part of the iCal (the calendar format, not the application) file. So most calendar applications don’t show it.

For instance, let’s say you need to join a meeting from the road. You’re on your iPhone, you open Calendar. No idea where the meeting link is. So you open up Google Calendar on the web. It’s in mobile view, you quickly go to your meeting. And the link isn’t there. Because Google doesn’t see fit to include it in mobile view. You find the link to the full site, click it, then find your meeting, and finally, there’s meeting.

Of course, by now, you’re 5 minutes late, or your car is in a ditch on the side of the road.

The simplest thing would be for Google to actually include the Hangout link in the meeting description, so everybody (errybody) could actually see it regardless of calendaring app. But nope. Either a) they don’t care, or b) they do care (about lock-in). Your choice.

Thankfully, Steve Calderon worked out a solution to the problem (something I had actually tried to set side some time to do). It adds the Hangout link to the meeting description. Which is what Google should have done anyway. It involves Google Apps Script, which is a little JavaScript environment you can use to program your Google Apps account. His script worked great for me, I just needed to enable a couple of things on top of his instructions.

  • Use Steve’s script (your calendar id is probably your primary GApps email address)
  • Go into Resources -> Advanced Google and enable Calendar v3
  • Click the link to go to the developer console and enable it there as well
  • Set a trigger to have it run automatically. Mine runs every hour.

Since I’ve turned this on, I haven’t crashed my car once trying to join an early morning hangout.

Now that I can get into a Hangout, it brings me to the second thing that sucks about Google Hangouts. They are horrible on your battery.

I’ve had multi-hour Skype audio and video calls. My MacBook fans never spun up. I’ve had long FaceTime calls with barely an impact to my battery. I’ve had Skype calls on my iPhone and the batter barely moved.

A 30 minute Hangout on my phone, even with the display turned off and my phone plugged in, is probably 10-20% of my battery. With video enabled, it’s even worse.

On a laptop, it’s even more fun. 20-30 minutes into every Hangout, inevitably, someone will say “hey, there’s a lot of noise coming from ABC’s end of the call. I’m going to mute them.” That noise? Their fans spinning up and trying to keep their laptop from melting down due to the Hangout running.

Hangouts works across multiple platforms, which is a great advantage, and it’s baked into the Apps experience, so it’s really easy to set one up. But there are still so many rough edges that there are many folks in our company who go out of their way to still setup conference bridges or Skype calls to avoid using Hangouts. And the rest of us spend time working around deficiencies in Google’s implementation (like finding a way to make it so we can actually even get to the Hangout from our calendar).

Otherwise, it works great.

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