January 28, 2021, 12:00
The Global Pub
A Videoconferencing Proposal
Invitation to Video Discussion Group -- Russians, Canadians, West Europeans
I hope to organize some transnational discussion groups between Russians and Canadians (though a few of them may include Western Europeans). Here’s the plan:
- You’re eligible if you speak English moderately well, own a computer with a webcam and Internet access, and live in Western Russia, Canada, or Western Europe. Probably most participants will be university-educated or even specialists but this is not a requirement. You will need to have a Google or Gmail account, but this is not difficult. For instructions see below.
- I will try to identify clusters of six people (probably three Canadians and three Russians) who share a common interest and ask one of the members to serve as convenors.
- All members of a cluster will choose the time and dates on which to hold monthly discussions lasting 1-2 hours for six months. For example, it might be noon in Toronto but 8 pm in Moscow. You would decide whether to stop, continue, or change the topic if some of you want to continue after the six month period. If a participant needs to drop out during the six-months, he will try to help the group find a replacement person so as to continue at least six months. There are, of course, no charges and Google Plus is a free service.
- Every member should expect to prepare a bit and contribute to the discussion. One group may ask one person each time to give a five minute talk to initiate the conversation. Another group may prefer to have everyone say something newsworthy. Yet another group may agree upon a reading list so that everyone will read a short paper before each meeting. Let’s not be very demanding about homework. Indeed, if the conversation strays into unrelated topics, that may be okay. As people get acquainted, they will probably not stay focused on a particular topic. This is more like a discussion among friends in a pub than a formal seminar.
If you are interested, please complete the application form on this site. Your responses will not be shared outside the project, and will be used only to match people up in discussion groups.
Before you apply to join a group, though, make sure your computer or tablet/smartphone is properly set up; read on for a brief guide to the basics.
What Equipment Do I Need, and How Do I Join Google Hangouts?
1. Checking your computer
What is your computer operating system? If you are a Windows user, you need to have Windows XP service pack 3, Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8. If a Mac user, you need one of the three most recent versions of Mac OSX -- as of July 2013, that would be 10.6, 10.7, and 10.8. If Linux, any distribution released in 2010 or later (eg any Ubuntu release since 10.04) is likely to support the Google Chrome plugin.1
Google also recommends that desktop or laptop users have at least a 2MHz dual-core processor. As a rule of thumb, this is likely to include any standard-sized PC or Mac computer released since 2008, but not most netbooks.
If you are an Android, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch user, you'll want to install the Google Hangouts app -- which allows you to initiate as well as join hangouts. (You need to be running at least iOS 6.0 on apple devices; or Android 2.3 and higher on Android devices.) On tablets in particular, the video quality is superior to that on most desktop computers and the interface is simpler, so if you have one, this is the preferred way to go.
2. Checking your camera, speakers, and microphone
Laptop or desktop users: Do you already have a working webcam, speakers, and microphone? For nearly all laptops which meet the current Google peformance specs, these are built in. If you have a desktop machine (that is, a box/tower attached to an external monitor and/or keyboard) you will need to use an external webcam, an external microphone, and possibly a set of external speakers, depending on your machine. You may also choose to use a headset (headphones and microphone in a single unit).2
3. Setting up your Google account
4a. Activating your video (tablet or smartphone users)
Your tablet or phone should have a front-mounted camera and an operating system compatible with the plugin's requirements. If that's the case, click your device's app store icon (or through Google Play), and search for "Google Hangouts". Install the app (it's free). Your audio and video will be automatically detected. Make sure you have volume turned on, and at a comfortable level.
4b. Activating your video (Windows, Mac, and Linux users)
Check that your camera and microphone/speakers are working properly before you go any further. If you have just installed a new webcam, its software probably includes a testing/settings application. Headphones, microphones, and speakers can normally be tested through the audio settings panel on your computer's Preferences [Mac] or Control Panel [Windows] screen.
You now need to install a plugin to allow the video camera and microphone to communicate with Google's all-purpose messaging and video interface -- Google Hangouts.4
At present, the Hangouts plugin (which is needed for laptop and desktop computer users) is only available for the Chrome browser. You can download the installation file for Chrome here, if you don't already have it installed. We're aware that many people do not like having to change from their usual browser for a specific task, but until there is a compatible plugin for Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc, Chrome is the only way to go.
Once you have Chrome running, the best way to install the Hangouts plugin on your Chrome browser is to go to http://www.google.com/hangouts/.
Once installation is finished, you can test the installation. Here are Google's instructions for testing, together with a troubleshooting link:
It’s recommended to set the microphone volume to as high as possible and the speakers/headphones considerably lower.
5. Getting others in your circles
NB: These instructions are written with Google Plus users in mind. The process is similar for others who are not on Google Plus, though details will differ in places. Now that you have a working camera setup and you are in your hangout, you’ll need to invite the other members of your discussion group to join you. Each member of the group will need to add the other members to a new “circle” -- Google's term for different groups of contacts -- in their Google + space. We recommend that you do this at least a couple of days before your group's first scheduled meeting, so that there is no last-minute panic.
Go back to the Google + main menu; if you are logged in, there will be a tab labelled “+.” Click on this.
Choose “More…” then “Circles” to manage your contacts. Click on “add a new person” if you know someone’s GMail address or ID, or click
“Find people you may know …”
to get the names of people who already communicate with you via other Google apps., 5
Once you have found the names of friends or aquaintances who are on Google +, add them to one of your circles (you may want to create a new circle called "Videoconference").
You can now start a hangout, and invite either the whole circle or specific named people to join you. Once the call has started you (or another participant) can add other friends.
6. Help from other users
There's an unofficial, but comprehensive (and illustrated) help page here. Most of the examples assume that you're using a smartphone or tablet, but you can normally find the same icons and links on a desktop computer as well (provided you're using the Hangouts plugin and the Chrome browser).
Normally, the best way to start a hangout from a desktop or laptop computer is to click on the "Hangout" link (or its icon, which looks like a small quote mark inside a larger quote mark) at the top and/or right-hand side of your Google + home screen. Choose either the "New Hangout" or the "Hangout Party" link to begin your hangout. A menu will appear to allow you to invite either a whole circle or individual friends, or a mixture of the two. You can also type in your contact names individually.
7. Recording your hangout (optional)
Google has a facility which allows you to record a hangout direct to YouTube -- this is currently called "Live Hangouts on Air" as it is also broadcast live during the session.
- You must verify the YouTube portion of your Google account in order to do this (verification is by text message, so you need either a mobile phone or access to one).
- To begin your live hangout, go to https://plus.google.com/hangouts; log in if necessary; and click on "Start a Hangout on Air". Then invite your group members in the usual manner; they will automatically be notified that the session will be broadcast and recorded, and may choose not to participate if they don't accept that condition.
- You will want to give the hangout a name for identification purposes. Once the recording has ended, you can restrict access to the recording to the participants or to a list of email addresses.
Notes and troubleshooting
1 Normally, if you are running one of the above systems, you’ll also have sufficient processing power and memory, but if you regularly have problems accessing complex webpages (eg YouTube) you may want to upgrade your computer’s memory. Users of Mac OSX 10.4 or 10.5 may find that the plugin works on their machine, even though there may be a warning saying that it doesn't...
2 Most webcams, and some headsets, require you to install software drivers. These will be packaged with your device, unless you got them second-hand or lost the installation disks, in which case you’ll need to search online for the right drivers for your system.
In a pinch, you can use an ordinary digital camera or camcorder (on a tripod or on a stable surface) as a webcam, using its USB cable to connect it to the computer. This may also require you to install the driver software which came with your camera--if you have not already done so.
Tablet/smartphone users may want to use a Bluetooth or other compatible headset to reduce audio feedback if you find this is a problem.
3 ‘Google account’ usually means a gmail email address, but can also be a YouTube, Picasa, Google Docs, Google Plus, calendar, or developer account which might be associated with a non-Google email address.
4 Google +/ Google Plus (which still exists as a Facebook-style service) was formerly the only way to make video calls and conference. It previously used the company's Google Voice and Video Plugin to manage the camera and microphone access, which had the advantage of working with Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera in addition to Google's own Chrome browser -- but it was slow and used a lot of resources. Since mid-2013, Google Voice and Video has been replaced by a newer Google plugin / web app called Hangouts, which can be launched without first running Google Plus. Unfortunately, the plugin only works via the Chrome browser, and not Firefox, Safari, or Explorer.