I remember when this feature went live back the spring of 2012. Having worked in the social business space for awhile, I became big advocate of collaboration and evangelizing the power of video. So Google hangouts were the perfect combination of social network, collaboration, community and videoconferencing. On top of that they allowed you to schedule hangouts, have up to 10 people on video with you, automatically upload the video to YouTube and even embed the video on your landing page or blog.
Early on I’d participate in the weekly Google hangout and Twitter chat called CMGRhangout put on by the @MyCMGR team. I also spent time watching and studying some of the big names on Google+ like Martin Shervington, Mia Voss & Dustin Stout as they built amazing communities around their live video events.
In the fall of 2013 I teamed up with Rachel Miller to launch a new Twitter chat called social selling hour. This allowed us to leverage Google hangouts live and video interview each week’s guest while simultaneously engaging the audience around the #SShour hashtag on Twitter. Eventually we rebranded the show as social business hour #SbizHour which today is the largest weekly video + twitter chat. In the fall of 2014 I teamed up with Daniel Newman to launch a new video Twitter chat called #Cloudtalk. (SBizHour Mondays at 4pm, Cloudtalk Thursday at Noon ET) Both of these communities have witnessed amazing growth including adding IBM as sponsors for both shows & just this month adding SAP as a cloud talk sponsor.
With all of that success, the title of this blog post might surprise you. Not only did I love Google hangouts and host 2 to 3 hangouts a week for 3 years but I also monetized these communities. However, after all of these shows and all of the success there was still only one guarantee with Google hangouts; that something would always not work like it should have or something would break during the show.
Innovate & Engage the Community or Goodbye
With all of the audio issues, the mobile app with limited functionality and the painful bugs that were never addressed since day one, I never once felt like Google plus invested in making the product better or listened to their power users who were using the platform daily.
Fast forward with me to the end of July. While I was live streaming on Periscope about the ‘power of collaboration and looking people in their digital eyeballs,’ one of my good friends Stephen Caggiano commented that I needed to check out a new live streaming site. While still live on Periscope, I went to the blab.im site on my browser and what did I see? But a Brady Bunch style, 4 way video streaming site. After getting over my initial shock that my FOMO (Fear of missing out) skills hadn’t discovered this tool on my own, I hit the ‘join’ button and jumped on Blab while still streaming on Periscope. As I was playing around on that first Blab the CEO Shaan jumped into the comments section and without hesitation introduced himself and asked “Give it to me real, what do you hate about our tool?” Later in that same Blab the community manager Brittany & Blab CTO Furqan jumped on video with me to give me a tour of the features and vision of the product. You could say I was hooked on day 1, not necessarily because of the tool but because I could see that the Blab team understood the importance of community and more importantly took an active role in building community the right way.
My initial thoughts were “Wow! This is cool!” but is it really just a squared 4 person only version of G+ hangouts? Wow was I wrong!
Blab did what I believe many start ups and new apps really struggle with; they kept the user interface simple, yet included enough features that would allow it to grow and innovate based on user and community feedback and user cases. Here are some of the features that I like:
- 4 Squares:
- At first I was disappointed that the video was limited to four people but as someone who has hosted 200+ video events anything more than 4 is too much to manage!
- Mobile App:
- Official App released on iTunes App Store this week is built to have all of the same functionality as what you have on the browser including scheduling, hosting and streaming over mobile. The app is first edition so it has some bugs but I can tell you that even while using the beta version they are updating and adding features and fixing bugs daily. Unlike G+ Hangouts, Blab is building this solution from mobile to browser not the other way round.
- Twitter integration
- Bridging communities is extremely important with all live streaming apps and not only does Blab have great Twitter integration for single sign-on, but with the click of the “Tell A Little Bird” button, anyone watching or participating in a Blab can share to Twitter. Not only that but it auto adds each person’s twitter handle who is on video at the time you hit the button. (Periscope owned by twitter doesn’t auto-populate the streamers twitter handle when users share to Twitter in their app).
- Video & Audio ease of use
- The learning curve for people jumping on G+ hangouts for the first time was beyond difficult but with Blab it’s as easy as clicking one button on the app (Join+) and if you’re wanting to use your webcam on your desktop you simply use Chrome, allow access to your camera and microphone and you’re live. This was a major pain point each week with G+ that is now eliminated with Blab.
- Community Engagement, Conversation and Feels
- Built into Blab is a commenting area that is visible to all on video and can be viewed either below the video on the app or on the right bar in the browser. This active chat not only allows for amazing collaboration between the four guests on video and their viewers, but it also fosters discussions between users. Users also have the ability to tap their mouse or finger on each square to give a “feel” which is a nonverbal cue that they like what that person is saying. (Similar to hearts but they disappear after each Blab and therefore people aren’t hacking the system like hearts to make it onto some list).
- Bugs fixed by hitting refresh
- Many of the issues with Google Hangouts were because when something went wrong, which happened every time, troubleshooting was painful and if the host had an issue and dropped off, everything would end and the broadcast would be lost. With Blab, most, if not all of the issues I’ve seen or had myself have been fixed by simply refreshing the browser and even if the host leaves, the show doesn’t end as long as others are still on video which allows the host to come back and continue the show.
- No private show capabilities
- Ability to have private streams is something I originally requested and begged for, but after hearing the Blab stance that, there are other tools that already do that and they have no plans to play in that space. I’m ok with having to use a different tool for these use cases.
- Swapping Users into Video seats
- Because it’s so easy for people to get on video you can interchange the four squares of video as many times as the host wants. This allows for great conversation and community involvement.
- Recorded Video, Audio & Replay Embed
- Automatically posting YouTube versions of G+ hangout shows was a huge feature and benefit for me on G+ and although Blab doesn’t do it automatically, the host has the ability to record, pause and then record again and after the Blab is over you receive an email with a link to download the raw audio file (Great for podcasting), raw video file (Cropped and sized but without the comments) as well as the embed code to add to a blog. (See an example where I did that here)
- Schedule & Subscribe
- With live streaming the real-time aspect is very important but also being able to schedule streams can be of huge value so your audience can plan to attend the live event. Similar to Meerkat, Blab allows you to schedule upcoming blabs and your community can subscribe to the event and receive a push notification once you go live. This is great as you can schedule a blab then post that link on other social platforms or even share it out in an email newsletter.
- Help with feedback & blab team access
- Not only does it seem like the blab team doesn’t sleep and engages in almost every blab big or small, they recently launched a feedback site for feature suggestions and enhancements. https://blab.uservoice.com/
Goodbye to Hangouts Live Only
Yes, I’ve only been on the platform for 20 days and yes, I’ve completely migrated our monetized Video Twitter Chats off of Hangouts to Blab 100%, but there will still be some use cases that require me to use Hangouts. Some examples of this are shows with large panels (try to avoid more than 2 guests at all costs) and the occasional private off air shows. When it comes down to it Google Hangouts were amazing but the technology didn’t change and Google didn’t care about the community, which means I have no allegiance or reason to advocate for the platform anymore now that I’ve found a better solution.
Community is the FUTURE of business
Blab.IM is far from perfect and I for one don’t advise betting against Google. But, after 20 days of using the platform, building relationships with members of the community and even having the opportunity to blab with their cofounder and financial investor, it doesn’t matter what G+ hangouts does at this point as I’m ALL IN with Blab! Check out their blog here, and read their amazing story on how it was created thanks to a forced developer staycation.