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Collaborate with Colleagues Using Google+ with Extras

This past summer I wrote about staying connected with family using video chat software. This past year, however, I’ve been using video chats for another purpose: to collaborate with colleagues around the country on several inter-institutional projects. Though I rarely use it as a social network, I’ve actually found that the hangout features in Google+ are perfect for professional collaboration. The service is free, the video quality is good, and you can bring in up to ten video streams simultaneously; in Skype, by contrast, you have to pay for a premium account to have more than two simultaneous video streams in one chat. What’s more, in September Google added a number of features to Google+ hangouts that make them particularly compelling for academic collaboration.

The most powerful of these new features—for me at least—is the new Google Docs integration (for lots more on the joys of Google Docs, see ProfHacker’s many Google Docs posts). With this feature, I can video chat with up to ten colleagues while we share a document in the center of the screen. We can all work on the document, and talk about what we’re doing as we make changes. This kind of integrated experience makes drafting, say, a multi-partner grant proposal infinitely easier than exchanging Word files (shudder), or even than drafting in Google Docs alone. My collaborative work has been very productive this semester, and I think its been in no small part due to Google+ hangouts with Google Docs.

Bonus tip: As the photo at the head of this post should signal, Google+ Hangouts are also a great way to bring someone virtually into a classroom or conference session. I’ve used Hangouts for this purpose a few times this semester, and it’s worked much better than previous solutions I’ve tried for this purpose.

Bonus bonus tip: If you frequently work using video chat software, you should consider investing in a nice headset. When you don’t wear a headset, you can get echo as the sound coming out of your speakers gets picked up by your computer’s mic. This can be unpleasant for everyone in the chat. You can fix this with by wearing earphones, but a headset will also improve your mic quality. I really like my Plantronics Voyager PRO+ headset because:

  1. It’s small—I don’t feel like a sound engineer in a recording studio while wearing it.
  2. It’s wireless, so I can move around my office if I need to without losing the thread of conversation
  3. The sound quality is quite good, both coming and going.

The Plantronics headset is a little pricey, but given how much I’ve been working on Google+ this year it’s been a worthwhile investment.

How about you? Do you have any tips for working with distant collaborators? Share them with us in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Cambodia4kids.org.]

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