Yesterday I read about a delightful project involving LEDs, Arduino, Processing, Node.js, Google+ and Google Hangouts.
I was originally interested due to the Arduino angle but then I realised there was something extremely powerful going on with Google+ Hangouts and had to dig in more.
Have a look at the video first, it’s an extremely cool mashing together of a bunch of things.
I’m not sure how the Hangouts Extensions and API announcements passed me by, but they are a really fantastic idea. To quote Google:
The Google+ Hangouts API allows you to develop collaborative apps that run inside of a Google+ Hangout. Hangout apps behave much like normal web apps, but with the addition of the rich, real-time functionality provided by the Hangouts APIs. Apps have the ability to control aspects of the user interface, synchronize data between hangout participants, and respond to various events in the hangout.
So in the video above, it’s a simple LED toggle that anyone on the Hangout can flick. The Google example mentions games but really anything involving user interaction is possible. I think I now understand how Red Bull managed to integrate a Twitter stream with the Live Hangout of Felix Baumgartner!
What else? Live Polls obviously. Did anyone use it to do realtime voting during last night’s presidential debate? The showcase also highlights Slideshare and Pulse News.
Whilst I am extremely impressed by the Hangouts API, it reminded me yet again of the giant hole at the heart of Google+. I’ve said it many times before but Facebook’s approach is still 100% correct. Provide a Platform and APIs and let developers/businesses provide the ideas and innovation. Facebook is a flavour factory, Google+ is currently vanilla only.
But the Hangout API and Extensions give me hope. If that type of wide-open functionality is made available in every part of Google+ (particularly Business and Local Pages), then Facebook has some real competition on its hands. That’s good for both Google and Facebook. And of course, us.