To Hangout or Not to Hangout?
Introduced in 2011, Google+ is now one of the fastest growing social network, with more than 500 million people having upgraded, 235 million active across Google and 135 million active in just the stream. One feature available through the network is Google+ Hangout. So what are Hangouts...why don't we have a closer look? Google+ Hangout is a free video chat service offered by Google. So I guess you can say to it's somewhat similar to Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Video Chat.
In India, the popularity of Google + Hangout seems to be on the rise as Indians are seeing many of their much loved public figures using Hangout to reach the public. Some of these people include spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, physician Deepak Chopra, cricketer Kumar Sangakkara and a number of political figures. In fact, as I mentioned in a previous article, Indian Government's View on Social Media Takes a 180 Turn, even the Indian Finance Minister used Hangout to discuss his budget with the public. To help push the use of Hangout among Indians, just last month Google announced that instead of accessing Hangout via the Google+ platform, the video chat service was now available to all Gmail users in India. Indians can now click on the hangout button at the top of the chat list in Gmail.
But how does Hangout stack up when compared to the very popular Skype with its estimated 800 million users worldwide? Well, one advantage of Hangout is that you can have video conferencing for up to 10 people. With Skype, to have more than a one-to-one video call, you need a premium account. With respects to integrated apps, Hangout allows you to share Google Docs, YouTube videos, and SlideShare during a Hangout. In regards to screen sharing, Skype only allows group screen sharing with a premium account while in Hangout, you can screen share with everyone in the Hangout. A major difference compared to Skype is Hangout's “on air” feature that allows you to have an unlimited numbers of members and makes the Hangout public. The Hangout is indexed and saved to the host's YouTube account. The videos can be up to 3 hours in length and can be uploaded immediately. Things that can't be done with Hangout is calling to landline and mobile phones and text messaging.
Now, considering that Skype is very popular in India and Google+ Hangout is also creating its own presence, one might find it surprising that these services have been reportedly called out as being illegal by V Srinivasan, chief general manager, BSNL. In fact, EFYTimes announced that Killi Kruparani, the Union Minister of State for communications and Information Technology, reportedly said the government will be re-examining these services. The reasoning for this is that Indian telecom companies and Internet providers will have to pay a share of their revenue gained from voice over Internet services and global players like Skype and Google are not paying out anything. India is not the only country facing this decision. French telecommunications regulators have also recently decided that Skype should register as a communications operator resulting in Skype's French earnings being subject to tax. Additionally, in 2012 South Africa declared the company as an illegal network bypass but not much arose from the incident. A similar situation happened in Ethiopia the same year.
So now comes the interesting part…in my opinion, this is going to be a tough decision for the Indian Government. In all fairness, how can you take revenues gained from one company for offering a service when not taking from another offering the same service? However, how can you claim something to be illegal when so many public figures, including top government officials, are taking advantage of the service and helping to increase its popularity? How the Indian Government handles this situation and what is decided will definitely be something worth looking out for.
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