"Today we're excited to launch Hangouts On Air to Google+ users worldwide," said Google engineering director Chee Chew in a blog post on Monday. "So if you have something to say--as an aspiring artist, a global celebrity, or a concerned citizen--you can now go live in front of a global audience."
Hangouts, a video chat service that can accommodate up to 10 Google+ users, is arguably the most innovative aspect of Google's social networking layer. Hangouts On Air, made available last September to a limited number of high-profile Google+ users like will.i.am, takes Hangouts a step further by allowing any number of people to view a Hangout.
[ Read Google Hangouts Go Mobile. ]
Hangouts On Air viewers, however, cannot participate in the Hangout; they can only watch and listen. That turns out to be ideal to recreate the oligarchic, few-to-many TV broadcasting model on the Internet, where communication has tended to be more bi-directional and democratic.
The advantage of the broadcast model is that traditional media companies know how to exploit it more effectively than they do the Internet model. It's also more suitable for most performing arts, because it's hard to perform when everyone has equal access to the microphone.
Anyone with a Google+ account and the necessary computer gear-- a webcam, a microphone, and a decent Internet connection--can start a Hangouts On Air broadcast. Up to nine additional people can join the video chat, and any number of additional people can watch and listen to what's going on.
Once when a Hangout On Air session concludes, the video file will be made available on the initiating user's Google+ home page. Thereafter, it can be edited using YouTube's Video Manager editing tools.
Google made Hangouts accessible via mobile devices in December, but Hangouts On Air remains a desktop-only product for now. This may have something to do with mobile service providers: Presumably, their networks would be overwhelmed with data if enough subscribers initiated Hangouts On Air broadcasts from their mobile phones.