Alternatives to Google Hangout for large groups
March 26, 2013 5:45 AM   Subscribe

Is there something like Google Hangout that allows for larger numbers of participants? Particularly in a one-to-many classroom-type setup rather than an all-way conversation.

Google Hangout, or something built on it with their API, seems like a perfect tool for an online class with a single instructor talking to multiple students. If it's a one-way thing where the students can mute their microphones, then the instructor is always the big image and the students are tiled along the bottom in little PIP-type screens. The students seeing each other rather than just the instructor is a nice motivator and makes it feel more like a real class, even if they're not interacting, and the instructor can tell at a glance who's paying attention.

But the limit of 10 or 15 participants (depending on acct status) seems a bit low. Is there a similar tool that would work for a class of more than 15 to see each other and the instructor simultaneously? If not, what about a tool where the students couldn't see each other but the instructor could still see the students?

If nothing like this exists and someone wanted to build one with a minimum of fuss, what existing video tech or platform should they start from?

And finally, what are the main technical constraints on the number of simultaneous participants in a video chat? Bandwidth, I guess? Video rendering? Or something else? I've seen comments online that G+ hangouts become buggy and unwieldy even at 8 or 9 participants.
posted by pete_22 to Technology (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
GoToMeeting supports 25 people (or 200 via a more expensive plan). Webex goes up to 3,000.

If you really just want to do a one-to-many thing, you could just stream yourself via UStream, LiveStream, or YouTube Live (if you can get access to it). Your students will lose the ability to directly interact with you (except for by comments), but it sounds like this is a feature to you. I believe that YouTube Live also recently added a fairly deep level of integration with Google Hangouts.

Don't expect any of this to be free. P2P video chat services like Skype don't scale well -- I'm pretty sure that Google do quite a bit of transcoding and repackaging on their end. The computational and network resources requited for Google to run Hangouts must be staggeringly huge and expensive. It's amazing that they're able to give the service away for free.
posted by schmod at 6:46 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The company I work for does this. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in a paid option. There aren't any free options that I know of that do what you want.
posted by rmless at 7:34 AM on March 26, 2013

Hangouts on Air do a one-way broadcast of your hangout to a large number of viewers. It's not quite what you describe though. But it may work better than a regular hangout.
posted by GuyZero at 9:52 AM on March 26, 2013

GoToWebinar is GTM's product for large groups, it is designed for exactly what you want.

I've also used Adobe Connect for webinar-style online classes and it's pretty nice. It requires Flash, though, but no actual thick-client download.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:09 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I host webinars through Twitter (I'm a HS teacher who does PD for teachers), we use Hangout on air with an embedded twitter client in the same window. That allows for people to watch and participate through a backchannel. Here's an example.

That way, you can have 10-15 in the hangout, and at least one person monitoring the backchannel to bring questions in. I've found that having any more than 8-9 people in a hangout makes it overwhelming anyway.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:24 PM on March 26, 2013

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