Columbia to test Google Hangouts to show City Council meetings

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 16, 2013

COLUMBIA — The city has used its share of Google products, and it's about to try an emerging feature of the Internet giant: Hangouts. 

Columbia already uses applications such as Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Calendar. The city plans to start using the Hangouts feature to broadcast City Council and other city meetings starting in August, said Lelande Rehard, a city management fellow. 

"We’ve used it for interviews and meetings and it's worked out pretty well, so we thought we would bring it into council meetings to see if it would potentially work," Rehard said.

The city plans to test Google Hangouts at smaller meetings in the next three weeks before using it to broadcast council meetings, he said.

The new feature will not replace any of the existing methods of viewing the meetings, Rehard said. Since the city can't control what Google does with the video, it will still continue to broadcast the video on the city website and television channel. 

"It's just another layer, another opportunity for folks to watch council meetings," he said.

Google Hangouts will allow the meetings to be broadcast live, and then posted to the city's Google+ page afterward. Other features of the application for the city allow as many as 15 users to participate in group chat call similar to Skype. For now, Hangouts will just be used to broadcast meetings rather than interacting directly with the public, Rehard said.

"It's just kind of opening the door," he said. "As we get more comfortable with it, we might find more ways to use it to interact with the public."

Ryan Crowe, social media director at Stealth Creative in St. Louis, weighed in on the benefits of using Google Hangouts. Crowe has been using Google+ since it started and is on Google's list of suggested users. 

He said Monday that one of the biggest benefits for cities using Google features such as Hangouts is that it helps search optimization. Google and YouTube, which is owned by Google, are the two most used search engines, Crowe said. When people search for a term, such as City Council meetings, the Google Hangouts video will be more likely to show up at the top of the results, he said.

One piece of advice he had for the city in trying to implement this new platform would be the editing feature to keep viewers interested.

"If you have a Hangout you can actually go back and edit the downtime out of those, which I think would increase viewership and decrease drop-off rate," Crowe said.

One successful example of Google Hangouts he pointed to was a Hangout discussion between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

"I think you just have to know what you’re doing with it, what you want to get out of it and what you want other people to do with it," Crowe said.

Rehard said the city plans to broadcast the City Council meeting on Google Hangouts for the first time at the meeting scheduled for Aug. 5.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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