At this writing, I don't have Google+ (someone please invite me…..). Was not a beta tester for Google's Chromebook (I applied), have never been body surfing with Larry or Sergey. But lack of first-hand experience has never stopped an academic in the past from making judgements, so here goes!
Google+ Hangouts. This is the video conferencing system backed into Google+. Go check out the lifehacker video.
What you will see in the video is a conferencing system that seems to get much closer to how natural conversations work. The system shows everyone's webcam image along the bottom, with the large webcam video image (along the top) automatically switching to whoever is talking.
Imagine this system baked into the LMS (learning management system). An integrated Hangouts would allow virtual synchronous team meetings, virtual office hours, and small group meetings without authentication (as they would already be logged into the LMS).
I'm a fan, and a customer, of Adobe Connect - but Connect lacks the automatic voice detection / video switching technology. Camera video windows in Adobe Connect are all the same size, and it is sometimes difficult to tell who is talking (and is also not idea for an instructor led virtual class).
A system like Hangouts could make the LMS more social and less reliant on text. As Hangouts improves, it should add more features like the ability to share presentations and documents - integration with Google Docs seems like the next obvious choice.
So far, Google+ Hangouts is limited to only 10 users, and cannot be used on a mobile device. But these limitations will go away over time.
Even if Google decides never to build an LMS (or Microsoft fails to build one around Skype), it is becoming clear that natural, low barrier video conferencing is becoming a standard Web feature. LMS platforms that do not incorporate elegant video conversation tools will feel antiquated and limited.
Up until now, the LMS has been an asynchronous tool. The future belongs to an LMS that is both synchronous and asynchronous - and is much more social.
Will Providence Equity make the necessary investments to bring Blackboard Collaborate up to the standards being set by Google+ Hangouts?
Will Adobe make the investments in Connect to compete with Hangouts as it evolves and improves rapidly?
Will Microsoft be able to quickly merge Skype into Office 365?
Will the LMS providers be able to integrate the new wave of web communications tools that Google and Microsoft will be pushing?
Will Larry and Sergey ever return my phone calls?