This was an interesting Thing to have a go at. Both forms of media do the same thing – allow face-to-face interaction with others in real time.
The Google Hangout needed to add some extra software to my PC before I could take part whereas the Collaborate Ultra just required me to click on a URL to join. I was a bit disadvantaged by not having a webcam on my desktop PC (although I’m sure my fellow 23Thingers would be relieved by this!) but my headset did have a mic attached. This is a bit of a problem when you share an office with several other people, all of whom were either chatting with visitors in the office or talking on the phone. This caused a lot of feedback, so I decided to switch off the mic and just join in by using the ‘chat’ function.
In a previous job in the University we used something called the Access Grid and, on one occasion, had about 15 sites hooked up at the same time. The downside was that the lines had to be booked in advance via JANET, each site had to book their own space which held the equipment and finally, it needed someone who knew how to drive the technology to be on hand during the meeting to look after the incoming feeds. Google Hangout and Collaborate Ultra are certainly far more accessible than anything else I’ve used in the past.
It’s nice to see the people in person because you get to see the body language as well (something that’s missing from phone conferences). However, it’s also easier to set up (anyone can do it) and potentially can allow more people to join in. I think it also forces you to concentrate on what you are doing. Being on the phone means that you can carry on checking e-mails. It’s not so easy to do this when everyone can see you!
The best bit was the ‘hands up’ button, which notified the moderator that you wanted to either ask a question or simply say something. It’s a nice piece of etiquette to have built into the system, otherwise I can see that it would be a bit of a free-for-all.