As you may have noticed, I’m starting up a pretty informal, weekly networking event called Coffee and Tech. The objective is to pull together a diverse bunch of people into a Google+ Hangout (essentially a free video-conferencing system for up to 10 people).

The coffee part is mainly because I find it almost impossible to function if I haven’t had a couple of cups by then. The Tech aspect describes what I will be able to bring to the party – a rough working knowledge of a few tech-related areas.

A new kind of networking?

This has come about mainly because I find it difficult to get to many of the available networking events. Being a father of school-age kids, most of the networking events available are ruled out simply because they take place in the morning or evening.

Thus, I find myself attending 3 or 4 lunches per month on average. This isn’t a problem at that level, as the benefit of attending these events (raising my profile and having human contact) far outweigh the downside (a significant chunk out of an already foreshortened working day). However, that downside would become pretty onerous pretty quickly were I to try and increase my networking efforts.

So the solution is to try a new kind of networking. I say new, but the facilities have been available in the past in the form of video-conferencing systems (think GoToMeeting or Skype premium at the lower end of the market). But the issue with these solutions is that they have had an associated cost. Not a huge cost, but enough to make people think twice about signing up.

Why Google+ Hangouts change the game

What make G+ Hangouts so different, I hear you ask? Well, none of the technical features are particularly groundbreaking, but the combination of all them at a great price point (i.e. FREE!) changes the game. A lot. What do you get with Hangouts?

  • Group video chat for up to 10 simultaneous participants
  • Pretty good audio and video compression, so huge bandwidth isn’t needed
  • Screen sharing
  • Document sharing (using Google Docs)
  • Whiteboard facility

In addition, the sheer number of people who already have Google+ accounts, 90m at the latest count, means that there are plenty of other people out there for you to connect with. Google are also making is as easy as possible for new people to sign up.

Will it kill other forms of networking? Actually, I don’t think so. I suspect some people like me will be able to network more, and others will be enticed to try for the first time. It might even boost attendance at other “real life” networking events once people discover how good it can be.

A happy marriage

Given my desire to network more, and the great features available in G+ Hangouts, putting the two together is obvious. Would it be possible to charge for access in the way traditional networking events do? Probably, yes, given that the Hangouts can be restricted to a named circle of people. But I don’t want to do that for a few reasons:

  • There are no costs involved.
  • It will be pretty informal, more a bunch of friends having a chat over coffee that a formal, BNI-type, networking event.
  • I plan to take a back seat as much as possible and just facilitate the discussion.
  • If it becomes too difficult to keep going then it can just fade away quietly. If you charge up front then there is more of an obligation to keep it running.

On your marks…

So it’s all ready to go. I’ve publicised the event to business contacts and others, and interest levels have been gratifyingly high. Monday morning I’ll be smarter than usual, and the office will be tidier than usual. I’ll also be a bit more nervous than usual!

Maybe I’ll hold off on that second coffee until it’s done.

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