Friday, December 16, 2011

Walking on Air

I have written a few times about Google Plus and Hangouts, in particular. These are live video chat sessions with up to ten participants at a time which are being used in a variety of new and creative ways. Beginning with pure social interaction, hangouts have evolved into a new kind of reality show where real people without scripts gather and share their thoughts. Communities have sprung up around art, cooking and many other topics. Friendships have been forged and people from around the world regularly get together to, well, hang out.

These sessions are private. But clever people with the necessary technical expertise have coupled broadcast abilities with vehicles like YouTube or used other means like U_Stream or LiveStream to broadcast hangouts with everything from live coverage at occupy Wall Street to a behind the scenes look at a karaoke show.

This week Google announced a new feature being slowly released to the Hangouts community. Eventually everyone will be able to stream their hangout to the public internet. This is huge.

Forward thinking people like Sarah Hill, news anchor at KOMU Columbia Missouri, not only saw the potential in hanging out with ordinary people during the live broadcast to collect opinions and feedback on her news stories, but had the vision to see how this technology would propel the citizen journalist into the limelight.

In fact, social media continues to invert the traditional news model where we sit around at six or eleven and wait for the talking heads on TV to tell us what is going on in the world. Sarah tapped into the social mesh to have it tell her what's happening everywhere and in real time. She had the power to channel all this content to her television viewing audience.

This lead to the creation of a whole new kind of television news show dedicated to pulling news and opinions from the community, both local and global, into the on air broadcast. The show both collects from and feeds into the growing array of social channels including Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Hangout participants are not only virtually in the studio during the broadcast but go on air and deliver their own content to the viewers. Again, the station had the means to make an on air personality of anyone.

KOMU was first in this game but local stations in other markets and the major networks are beginning to notice and experiment. People like Francois Picard (France 24), Matt Markovich (KOMO, Seattle), and Maria Quiban (Fox News, LA) are starting or joining hangouts to interact with people on and off the air. They too will figure out how to weave the variety of new sources of information into their shows.

But what will happen when the people in a hangout with breaking news or compelling content can open the hangout to be viewed by anyone? How will this change the news and entertainment landscape? What does it mean when my friend Robert Redl (Austria) can open an "on-air" hangout and invite Maria Quiban to be in his hangout? The model has truly been turned inside out.

Suddenly, the people running hangouts are the new channel and can enable everyone from the man on the street to the television personality to speak to the world.

Captain Joe

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