It has been my pleasure to attend a number of KOMU anchor Sarah Hill‘s interesting Google+ newsroom Hangouts since July 19, 2011. In this article, I will try to share some of my technical observations and insights. (note: For my general and business insights, you can read my previous article.)
Using G+ Hangout as a control room of 9 Electronic News Gathering (ENG) team
1) News anchor running G+ Hangout connecting to maximum of nine Electronic News Gathering (ENG) teams in the field.
2) Each of the nine reporters will have a notebook computer connecting to the internet via a 3G/4G data stick. And each reporter has a handheld SD/HD camera hooking up to the notebook as its camera. (note: SD or HD probably doesn’t matter here because the data will be compressed and you are transporting over 3G/4G network anyway.) (Aug 11 update: Currently, G+ Hangout doesn’t support external video cameras. I have reflect this request to G+ engineers.)
3) Any “newsroom” can probably set this up easily.
In fact, any team of volunteer citizen journalists may even be able create such a reporting setup with less trouble. All it takes is each individual citizen journalist to have a notebook computer, a fast 3G/4G data stick, and a camera. And these citizen journalists can work together depending on needs and events, etc.
4) Feed the G+ Hangout video stream out to the wider world using tools like Livestream for mass distribution.
5) Use cases: Will be quite cool to report on elections, street festivals, concerts, and live events.
Non-ideal use cases: Any major crisis, earthquakes, etc where the mobile 3G/4G networks are expected be extremely congested and overloaded. In these rare cases, old school dedicated microwave or satellite transmission will likely provide more stable transmission than overloaded mobile data networks.
Fixing the insecurity of G+ Hangout
At the moment, Google+ Hangouts is known to be insecure, in the sense that each hangout participant has the clear text “https://talkgadget.google.com/hangouts/…” link (see the top of the above photo) and can copy and then share with anyone they wish without knowledge or permission of the originator or any participants of the Hangout. In a sense, once the host initiate a Hangout, she/he becomes just like one of the participant.
Security solutions is hard to get right the first time in a vacuum, so I propose the following draft solution and welcome inputs and ideas to improve it. Here is my draft solution and please feel free to share your insight to make this better.
1) Modify the code for “join hangout” button, which will generate a new one-time passcode for each user. Up to a max of 9 (or “N”) users.
2) the passcode can be a 10 characters long case-sensitive alpha-numeric string (assuming 62**10 is good enough for everyday average use)
3) and then, the key step is to invalidate each user passcode as that user exit a hangout. Explicitly stopping another user from using the same passcode to enter a hangout. The passcode e.g. “&passcode=REallYLonG1128RandOM” contained in this new amended“https://talkgadget.google.com/hangouts/…” will be invalidated after every use.
4) note 1: It may be nice to allow the hangout originator, to decide if she/he wants to accept new passcode. The idea is to allow new user to join a hangout with the explicit permission of the host.
Idea: Let new guest generate a new 10 characters passcode but leave it is up to the host to accept this passcode or not. Kinda like putting a new door with a brand new key combination on it for each new guest.