Google Hangouts is one of the best video chat and conference services, but it's easy to forget that it's not just for talking to friends privately. There are lots of public, open Hangouts every day that anyone can join, and many of them can teach you something interesting and new, expose you to new ideas, or just help you relax and live a little. Here are a few of them.
Language Practice Hangouts
The Language Practice Hangout Community at Google+ was built by and for people who want to learn new languages from people who actually speak them natively, without spending a lot of money. By joining, you get access to a number of sub-communities specifically for people looking to learn specific languages, including English, German, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Italian, Portuguese and several more.
The community is well over 21,000 people strong and hosts weekly live Google Hangouts where you can join other native speakers in a discussion to help boost your language skills through common conversation. They even have a well packed Google Calendar of events and hangouts here. Best of all, everything is free because it's built by a community of people looking to help each other and, of course, learn something new.
If you've always wanted to go to cooking school but never had the opportunity, ChefHangout may be perfect for you. Unlike some of the other regular hangouts here, ChefHangout isn't free, but it is a bona fide cooking class with a select number of participants and a real trained chef leading the class inside a kitchen using professional equipment. Courses usually run about $US20, and you can see the upcoming class list and schedule on their site. Whether you're interested in learning to make vegetarian or vegan Japanese dishes, cook with seasonal ingredients, learn to roast a chicken or a turkey, master your knife skills, or something else, ChefHangout either has had or is likely planning a class on it.
Right now, there's an upcoming introduction to cajun-style cooking scheduled for October 5, a cooking class that will focus on fresh soups and salads on September 21, and a few more later on. If you're already at home in the kitchen and want something to test your skills a bit more, or you have friends you may want to learn alongside, check out their Master Series, which requires a minimum of five people in each class and aims to teach more advanced cooking skills — all using Google Hangouts as your primary learning tool.
We mentioned Maker Camp back in July when it started, and while it's definitely winding down now, we have no reason to believe the folks at Make won't do it again next year, or even do similar Hangouts and events later this year.
You can see some of the other previous events on their schedule, and go back through the previous events if you like. Stay tuned, because we know they will host more events soon!
NASA Science and Astronomy Hangouts
The NASA page over at Google+ is worth circling, if not for all of the amazing photos and historical tidbits they post, but also for their almost weekly Google+ Hangouts with their readers on topics including space exploration, living in space, and climate change and weather, to name a few. In many cases, the Hangouts are just live on air, meaning you can watch them from Google+, submit your questions and have them answered on air, but in other cases you can actually join the panel, be brought into the show, and participate in the discussion or ask your questions in-person.
Best of all, the discussions are always open to the public for anyone to join. At the time of this writing they don't have any on the docket (they just finished one on Wildfire and Climate Change), but you can check their calendar here to make sure you don't miss anything.
The Hangout Comedy Club
If you're looking for a hangout that's a little less informative and a little more relaxing, you may want to check out the newly announced Hangout Comedy Club, which you can join live as it happens (the first one was yesterday!) to hear stand-up comedians delivering jokes and punchlines from the comfort of your desk or couch. The series is actually a partnership between Google and the charity Comic Relief, and your real-time "lols" will turn into big bucks for the charity itself. Google describes it like this:
We're partnering with the U.K. charity Comic Relief to bring you the first online comedy club — the "Hangout Comedy Club." We've created a clever gizmo called the "Laughometer," which will measure how much you enjoy the show and turn your lol's into an optional donation to Comic Relief. They use the funds they raise to tackle the root causes of poverty and social injustice.
To be part of the Hangout Comedy Club, simply join a Google+ Hangout hosted by one of our famous comedians, including Katherine Ryan, Sanderson Jones and Joey Page. Just like a real comedy club, if you're brave enough, you can join the front row with up to eight others. If you'd rather sit out of sight, join a Hangout, add your friends, and watch from the safety of the back row.
To us, that's a pretty good way to raise money, and a great use of the technology. Besides, it's fun.
Bonus: Hangouts Against Humanity
Finally, if you're bummed that some of the ones above are either ending or don't meet your definition of fun, maybe this is more up your alley. The popular party card game Cards Against Humanity is a lot of fun to play with your friends, but if your friends don't live nearby, or you can't get together to play, you might consider starting a Google Hangout with them and playing Hangouts Against Humanity, a version of the game that you can fire up inside a Google Hangout. You can circle the Hangouts Against Humanity Google+ page here to stay up to date on its development, and join the Google+ community here. From there you can get involved, join or host a game, and in general just have a great time.
Hangouts is great for talking to friends, but you can see it's also great for learning new things, keeping up with the news, meeting people you may never have known and having a little fun at the same time. These aren't the only uses for hangouts either, and you can always use previously mentionedGPHangouts to find public hangouts hosted by individuals if you're really daring.
Our suggestion if you're looking for more is to poke around the Google+ Communities page and see which communities have regular hangouts on-air, even if they're just broadcasts and you can't get in on the actual panel, you can usually interact with the hosts and join the conversation.