A Tibetan advocacy group held what appeared to be the world’s first Google+-powered video press conference this past Friday. The London-based International Tibet Network used Google Plus/Google+ (has the branding truly been figured out yet?) for a coordinated event featuring speakers in India, the United States, and the United Kingdom, held via Google+ Hangouts. Select journalists were allowed to join the press conference online and video was quickly rebroadcast via both Twitter and YouTube.
Although the nominal subject of the press conference was the People’s Republic of China’s decision to seal the borders of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the video press conference seems to have been held primarily to raise public awareness through the sheer novelty of a Google+ media event.
Google+ Hangouts allows up to 10 users to videoconference, text, chat, and share YouTube videos simultaneously. While the technology is fascinating, especially for press conferences, there are two major caveats: Hangouts does not work on mobile devices at this time, while the limit of a Hangouts group to 10 users puts a cramp in the possibility of holding regular press conferences in Google Plus. Hangouts does give users the option of conducting closed/private video chats, if you want to use it for videoconferencing without the media angle.
Participants in the press conference included Tenzin Jigme of the International Tibet Network, Tendor Dorjee of Students for a Free Tibet, Dhardon Sharling of the Tibetan Womens Association, and Alison Reynolds of the International Tibet Network. Google has had famously messy relations with China and Chinese hackers are also suspected in a recent attack on Gmail.
This one-off Google+ press conference could be a harbinger of things to come for both tech and political observers. Unlike Google+, Facebook only supports one-on-one video chats, which means that online videoconferencing–and the sweet, sweet ad and marketing money that comes with it–is going to mainly fall under Google’s purview for now. Moreover, online social media has played a crucial role in the recent/ongoing Arab revolutions, protests in Greece, the 2009 Iran election protests, and dissident movements around the world.
Adding multi-user video teleconferencing to the mix is a simple way for dissidents in their native countries to communicate with expatriates and allies abroad. Though Hangouts is still in its infancy, this may well occur in the next inevitable geopolitical calamity.