Is Google Plus is dead or a ghost town? I don’t know and I really don’t care. But what I do know is that my favorite aspect of Google Plus was, without question, Google Hangouts. I remember when this feature went live back the spring of 2012. Having worked in the social business space for a while, I was really focused on collaboration and the power of video. Google Hangouts were the perfect combination of social network, collaboration, community, and video conferencing. On top of that, you could 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. Pretty awesome stuff.
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 on Twitter around the #SShour hashtag. Eventually, we rebranded the show as Social Business Hour (#SbizHour) which today is the largest weekly video and Twitter chat. In the fall of 2014, Daniel Newman, one of my business partners at Broadsuite Media Group, and I I teamed up to launch a new video Twitter chat called #CloudTalk. (SBizHour is on Mondays at 4pm, and CloudTalk is on Thursdays at Noon ET) Both of these communities have witnessed amazing growth, including adding IBM as sponsors for both shows, and just this month adding SAP as a CloudTalk sponsor.
Bottom line, I was not only a big fan of Google Hangouts, and hosted two to three Hangouts a week for a few years, but Daniel and my team at BMG also were successful at monetizing these chats and communities, which is never a bad thing. 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. With limited functionality and the painful bugs that were never addressed by the team at Google, I was always concerned by the fact that Google didn’t appear interested in investing to make the product better, nor did they pay any attention to their power users who were using the platform on a daily basis. Very frustrating indeed, but up until now, just a part of doing business.
In July of 2015, everything changed. While I was live-streaming on Periscope about the ‘power of collaboration and looking people in their digital eyeballs,’ my good friend,Stephen Caggiano, commented that I should check out Blab.im, a new live-streaming site. While still live on Periscope, I went to the Blab.im site and what did I see? It was the coolest Brady Bunch style, four way video streaming site! Pretty awesome indeed.
After getting over the initial shock that my deep-seated FOMO (fear of missing out) skills hadn’t managed to discover 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, Shaan Puri, the CEO of the company, jumped into the comments section and without hesitation introduced himself and asked for my feedback about the platform. Later that same Blab, Brittany, Blab hate about our tool? risin that same Blab the community manager Brittany, and Furqan, Blab, Blabta jumped on video to give me a tour of the features and vision of the product. Not only was I hooked on day one because of the awesomeness of the Blab.im platform, it was clear from the get-go that the Blab.im team understood the importance of community and took an active role in reaching out to users right away. And that, my friends, is always part of what makes a good experience great.
Blab.IM First Impressions & FeedbackBlabMobile
As I started using Blab.im, my initial thoughts were “Wow! This is cool!” But really, I was wondering if it was really just a squared, four-person-only version of G+ hangouts? Was I ever 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 my team and I at BMG like the best:
Four Squares. Initially, I was disappointed that the video was limited to four people but, as someone who has hosted some 200+ video events, I know that anything more than four people is difficult to manage and it’s equally as difficult for the audience to enjoy.
Blab.im Mobile App. The official Blab.im app was released in the iTunes App Store this week, and it’s built to have all of the same functionality as what a user experiences on the browser, including scheduling, hosting, and streaming over mobile. The app is first edition, so it’s still in beta and, of course, has some bugs. But the cool thing is that the Blab.im team is focused on updating and adding features and fixing bugs daily.
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. In addition, it automatically adds each person’s Twitter handle who is on video at the time you hit the button. This is especially interesting, as Periscope, which is owned by Twitter, doesn’t auto-populate the streamer’s Twitter handle when users share to Twitter in their app. Another thing the dev team at Blab clearly is paying attention to.
Video & Audio Ease of Use. The learning curve for people jumping on G+ Hangouts for the first time was beyond difficult, but with Blab.im, it’s as easy as clicking one button on the app (Join+). If you’re wanting to use the 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.im and our team really loves that.
Community Engagement, Conversation and Feels. Blab.im has a built-in commenting area that is visible to all on video and which can be viewed either below the video on the app or on the righthand sidebar 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. This is similar to Periscope’s hearts, but they disappear after each Blab and, therefore, people aren’t hacking the system like they do on hearts to make it onto some list. Another UX score for the dev team at Blab.im.
Bugs Fixed by Hitting “Refresh.” Many of the issues with Google Hangouts were because when something went wrong (which I’m pretty sure I already mentioned happened every time), troubleshooting was painful at best. If the host had an issue and dropped off, everything would end and the broadcast would be lost. With Blab.im, most, if not all of the issues my team and I have seen or experienced have been fixed by simply refreshing the browser. What’s really cool is that 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 c\Capabilities. The ability to have private streams is something that I originally thought was a really important component of any live-streaming platform, but after discussing this with the folks at Blab.im, I see their logic. There are other tools that already do that, and they have no plans to play in that space. And that makes perfect sense. I’m okay with having to use a different tool for these use cases and appreciate the team at Blab.im knowing what their competitive advantage is and when it makes sense not to compete against others in the video conferencing and collaboration space. That’s an impressive move for a startup and we like it.
Swapping Users into Video Seats. Because it’s so easy for people to get on video, you can interchange the four squares of video during a Blab.im session as many times as the host wants. This is pretty awesome functionality and allows for great conversation and community involvement.
Recorded Video, Audio & Replay Embed. Another feature our team loves is that the host has a lot of control, including the ability to record, pause, and then record again. Even better? After the Blab is over, you’ll receive an email with a link to download the raw audio file, which is great for podcasting, along with the raw video file (which is cropped and sized but doesn’t include the comments), along with the embed code, which you can add to a follow-up blog post. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Schedule and Subscribe. With live-streaming, the real-time aspect is very important. But it’s also important to be able to schedule streams, os that 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, driving interesting and participation in the event.
Help with Feedback and Blab Team Access. My team at BMG and I can’t say enough good things about the folks at Blab.im. Not only does it seem as though they never sleep, they recently launched a feedback site for feature suggestions and enhancements. https://blab.uservoice.com/. We love any platform that’s laser focused on creating the very best user experience possible and it’s clear that the team at Blab is focused on just that. We are beyond impressed by these people.
Goodbye to Hangouts Live Only. While we’ve only been using Blab.im for the last month or so, we have been so impressed that we’ve migrated our client-sponsored video Twitter Chatss off of Google Hangouts to Blab.im. There will undoubtedly still be some occasional use cases that will require our team to use Google Hangouts, including having more than four guests (which is never advisable) and the need for occasional private, off-air shows. However, when Google Hangouts were the only solution, it made sense to put up with its quirks and to try to ignore the fact that the team at Google didn’t care much about community. Now, when we have something like Blab.im to use that is the exact opposite, and brings a team wholly focused on creating a great user experience based on feedback from users—well, it’s a no brainer which we prefer.
Community is the FUTURE of Business
Bottom line, community matters. No matter what your product, no matter what you do. Blab.im is far from perfect, and of course it never makes sense to bet against Google. However, Google has a long track record of launching things and then just not paying attention to them, and Hangouts is no exception. After a relatively short period of time using Blab.im, our team is already impressed, and building relationships with members of the community as well as their dev and executive team. That’s awesome. And if you want to know the full story about Blab.im, you can read the amazing story on how the platform was created thanks to a forced developer staycation.
Blab-Ya-Later Follow me on Blab – as well as my team at Broadsuite Media Group, Shelly Kramer and Daniel Newman. We would love to help you launch your first Blab and/or help you figure out how to use Blab as part of your integrated marketing strategies.
Image credit : Team Blab