HuffPost Live Breaks Down ‘Fourth Wall’ With Google+ Hangouts
Google has hosted video-chat Hangouts with everyone from the Muppets to President Obama, but for the past seven months, the search giant has also helped host the more than 7,000 guests who have appeared on Huffington Post Live.
The media giant, now owned by AOL, kicked off HuffPost Live in August as a live-streaming network to complement its blogging empire. In launching HuffPost Live, Arianna Huffington said that “the news is no longer about a few people telling everyone what happened – it’s about everyone telling everyone what’s happening right now, [and] this shift from presentation to participation is what fuels HuffPost Live.”
In order to add that participation component, however, HuffPo needed an easy-to-use video service that let it tap into the Huffington Post audience. In an interview with PCMag this week, Huffington Post CTO John Pavley said the company considered a number of video-chat options, including Skype, but ultimately landed on Google+ Hangouts.
“It’s really difficult to create a system where users can just jump on to their computers and join a live program,” Pavley said. “One of the key components of HuffPost Live is there was a very low barrier [to entry]; we were taking down the fourth wall.”
Ultimately, Google+ Hangouts were “easy to use and easy for us to integrate,” he said.
HuffPost Live generally airs from studios in New York, Los Angeles, and D.C., but with the help of Google Hangouts, it can bring in experts or journalists or just everyday readers to chat live on the air. At this point, HuffPost Live has an average of almost 100 people per day using Google+ Hangouts to join its broadcasts. Topics range from The Huffington Post’s bread and butter – politics – to lighter fare like Cooking Off the Pounds and How to Raise a Genius. The highest single traffic day was Election Day 2012, when HuffPost Live recorded 1.5 million unique views and 4 million video streams.
“Our goal is for people to participate,” Pavley said. “We don’t want people to just sit back … and watch. That’s part of the DNA of the HuffPost.”
“But you have to make it easy for them. It gets complicated when you have to navigate the camera and audio [plug-ins],” he said. “Google did a good job, [so] people don’t have to worry about downloading a client and software.”
HuffPost Live includes a chat box directly to the right of the live stream, where people can sign in with Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, or Hotmail. They can then leave text comments or post their own video message. At this point, “text is overwhelmingly more popular than video,” Pavley said (917,000 comments and counting), but those who want to play a more active roll in HuffPost Live can select the “Be an on-air guest” button and audition to appear on a show.
In that way, HuffPost Live has “really democratized live video,” said Steve Grove, head of community partnerships at Google. “It’s not just bringing experts together, but it’s bringing impassioned readers together.”
“All you need is a quiet room and a webcam and something to say,” Grove said.
The face-to-face contact provided by Google+ Hangout, meanwhile, can lead to a more civil and in-depth conversation, Grove suggested. With Internet-based commenting, “if you don’t know the person, you don’t treat them with the same level of respect or dignity. When you’re face to face … that dynamic totally changes [and leads to] much more deep, robust, thoughtful” discussions.
“I felt like I really got to know him better,” Pavley said of Tyson.
Grove, meanwhile, pointed to HuffPost Live’s segments on gay marriage, which he said gave the debate a visual element as people from all walks of life discussed the issue.
Pavley suggested these engaging HuffPost Live guests could become the next break-out stars of the Web. Just like some HuffPo bloggers made a name for themselves on the site, “I think you’ll see that with HuffPost Live.”
“Even though we like to think there aren’t barriers to entry, [there are],” Pavley said. But “the Internet is a great way to tear down those structures, and the intersection of HuffPost Live and Google technology can become a real springboard.”
HuffPost Live is accessible via live.huffingtonpost.com on the Web and mobile devices.
For more, see PCMag’s review of the Google+ iPad app.
By Chloe Albanesius, PCMag