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September 20, 2011

Google Launches Hangout API for Developers

Google+ Hangouts
In addition to the slew of new Hangout-related features announced today on the official Google blog, the Google+ team also announced the launch of the Google+ Hangouts API for developers. This API (application programming interface) will be available as a “Developer Preview” starting today – meaning it’s not a fully-cooked product, but one that’s available for testing purposes only.

The new Hangouts API will allow developers to build their own experiences inside Hangouts and build real-time applications that use Hangouts, similar to Google’s own built-in YouTube player. The YouTube player lets Google+ users in a Hangout watch videos together at the same time.

Google also announced screen-sharing, Google Docs editing and sketching as new built-in features for Google+ Hangouts today, thereby forcing developers to think beyond the obvious integrations to more creative uses of the Hangouts API when building their apps.

To get started with the API, developers will build a Web application, register it with Google and specify who on their team can load it into a Hangout. The app behaves like a normal Web app, says Google, but it can use the new APIs like synchronization. Developers can create a “shared state” among all instances of their app so that all of their users are instantly notified of changes made by anyone else. Also included are the first few multimedia APIs that enable apps to do things like mute the audio and video feeds of Hangout participants.

The increased focus on Google+ Hangouts comes at a time when interest in Google’s new social network is dwindling and Facebook has implemented several similar features to those found on Google+. It’s not surprising to find Google promoting Hangouts, then, given they’re one of the service’s main differentiating factors from Facebook. Although Facebook offers video chat with friends through its Skype integration, that support is limited to one-on-one conversation, not group chats.

With Hangouts, developers could potentially build free alternatives to paid apps for online meetings, podcasting, tutoring and education, gaming and more. It should be interesting to see what developers come up with. In the meantime, documentationsign up forms and group-based feedback are available now, too.

About Google+ Hangouts API for Developers

The Google+ Hangouts API allows you to develop collaborative apps that run inside of a Google+ Hangout. Hangout apps behave much like normal web apps, but with the addition of the rich, real-time functionality provided by the Hangouts APIs. Apps have the ability to control aspects of the user interface, synchronize data between hangout participants, and respond to various events in the hangout. 

We are launching the Hangouts API initially as a Developer Preview. We'll be gathering feedback during this early phase and using it to rapidly improve the API, so be aware that functionality is likely to change. You'll find that we've added additional tools directly in the hangout itself to help you build your apps more quickly.
Getting started is easy. First, build your app or just start with one of our pre-built examples like Talking Heads, which changes your avatar into a talking Android of your choice. Next, register it in the APIs Console, and tell us who on your team should be able to load your app. Then, start a hangout with your app!

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