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Thousands View Kerry Discussing Syria on Google Hangout

Secretary of State John Kerry appeared in a Google Hangout Tuesday afternoon to discuss the United States and Syria. The appearance drew nearly 7,000 Google+ users to the online platform.
A Google Hangout is portrayed by Google as a “real-life conversation” that allows participants to share messages, photos, voice and video.

In many cases, a Hangout amounts to a sort of video conference call. Kerry’s appearance used a part of Google Hangout technology called “Hangouts On Air,” which essentially live streams the video call being conducted.

The Hangout was titled “Syria: Weighing the U.S. Response.” It was hosted by Lara Setrakian, co-founder and executive editor of the Syria Deeply website. Guests on the call were New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Andrew Beiter, a social studies teacher who offered questions to Kerry from students.

About 10 minutes before the scheduled Hangout time at 2 p.m. ET, more than 4,000 Google+ users had already checked into the Hangout. The number continued to climb steadily.

About a minute or two before the scheduled beginning of the Hangout, a YouTube video window, asking visitors to “please stand by,” appeared on the Hangout page.

About 2:06, the video was still on standby and more than 5,600 participants had joined. When the Hangout actually began a couple of minutes later, more than 6,100 Google+ users were in there.

Kerry sat in front of a blue curtain and official flags, much as he would do for a TV interview.

The Hangout featured good audio (all guests were wearing lapel microphones), and the video quality was mostly distortion free. Noticeably absent were the dramatic visuals and music that accompany these sorts of “discussions” on TV.

For those unaccustomed to Google Hangouts (which is still a large portion of even the online population), it might have been disconcerting to see a YouTube video window deliver a live conversation involving the secretary of state – as opposed to, say, a kitten falling off a TV.

Furthermore, the Hangout keeps all “on air” guests visible at all times via thumbnails beneath the main image – an image chosen at any given time by the Hangout’s runners. As such, you see normal human behaviors our telegenic ideals eschew: adjusting glasses, fixing hair.

Roughly 15 minutes into the Hangout, the number of participants had increased to 6,525. And if one cared to visit #TalkSyria on Twitter via a mobile device, for example, one would have found the live stream embedded at the top of the feed.

Numerous entities were promoting the Hangout with that hashtag: CitizenTube, the U.S. Embassy in Singapore, the New York Times Opinion Twitter account, even Lutheran World Relief.

By 2:30 p.m., the Hangout’s participants topped 6,900, and some 10 minutes later it concluded.