When I first started using Google Plus I was overwhelmed with the ways people learned to take advantage of the new features Google presented on it’s social network. One of the most exciting features to hit the service has been Google Hangouts. Hangouts allow for 10 people to be connected in a high quality video conference that doesn’t require an involved setup process or unattainable computer resources. In the first few weeks we’ve seen this put to a variety of creative uses. Daria Musk has put on a live concert for thousands of people. Michael Dell has regular hangouts to chat with his followers and Michael Mozart (of Fail Toys fame) has been experimenting with the live streaming of Hangouts on YouTube.
One new Hangout which I’ve had the fortune of participating in is the worlds first Google Plus cooking show called Table for Ten. Table for Ten is the brainchild of Alida Brandenburg (Pandora) and Rob Grega (DJ/Producer/A&R). I had the opportunity to ask them a few questions about this inspiring new show and gained a lot of insight. If these words don’t spark your creative flame or get you excited about the new social frontier I don’t know what will. If you want a sneak peak, check out the video and stills from the show!
How did the idea for a Google hangout cooking show come about?
Alida: I was invited by Natalie Villalobos and Timothy Jordan to join Google+ when it first launched. I was a little bewildered at first as to what to do with yet another social networking site, but after hopping in my first Hangout with the two of them and others from all over the world, I was hooked. It got me thinking about all the ways the Hangout feature could be utilized and the more I considered it, the more the possibilities seemed endless. Specifically, group video chats seemed like such a revolutionary way to connect with individuals and share- to sort of break what seems to be the last barrier of online interactions, namely how impersonal and detached it feels without the expressionism of a live human face and voice. It really humanizes the online experience.
So I had all these ideas about what the Hangout feature could be used for, so really it was just about narrowing it down to which one to experiment with first. Fortunately it was interesting timing because just a few weeks before Google+ launched, I was telling Rob that he should post a video to YouTube of him making lasagna cupcakes. He shared pictures of the dish on Facebook the last time he made them and people were going wild about the idea. Everyone wanted to know how he did it. I thought it would be a fun project that people would likewise enjoy. Transitioning that YouTube idea to instead be applied to the Hangout feature was a natural fit. Preparing and sharing meals is one of the most social activities shared universally, and the opportunity to do that live with people all over the world and with instant reciprocal feedback is something that- to my knowledge- hasn’t been done before. It takes the idea of a cooking show to a whole new level. It totally breaks down the 4th wall for the first time, which changes everything.
Rob: Needless to say, G+ really got Alida’s wheels turning, and she kind of became an overnight G+ addict, so I had to quickly figure out a crafty way to still hang out with her.. Haha. No, seriously, I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I’ve been hosting dinner parties for years. Sharing food with others is kind of a family thing to me. I grew up in an Italian household where my grandmother would make big Italian dinners for my mother’s entire family every weekend. The house was packed with four sets of aunts and uncles, countless kids running around, Grandpap smoking cigars on the porch, the men all yelling at the television when the Steelers would lose- you know, traditional Italian, Pittsburgh style. The women were always in the kitchen at my grandmother’s, and my mom cooked at home pretty much every other night of the week, as well. I was the oldest son, so I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping her out. It’s just second nature to me so it’s a fun thing to share with my friends- and now the world- via the Hangout.
When was the first Table for Ten show?
Just two weeks after the launch of G+: Saturday, July 16, 2011.
What did you learn from the first show and what changes did you make?
Rob: Our first Hangout started about 45 minutes late. We had been trying for an extended period of time to enable recording of the Hangout after a number of users expressed disappointment at not being able to join for whatever reason, mostly because they were international and the time-zone difference was an issue. However, we couldn’t get any of the recommended programs to work. We also tried using an external camera to give people a better view of the action in the kitchen, but we found out that only the built-in camera would stream to the Hangout. We were left experimenting with different angles at which to place the laptop to get the best view, which was pretty hilarious actually. It ended with us emptying out my entire kitchen cabinet to set the computer inside it on a shelf.
Beyond that, the biggest challenge was keeping everyone working at the same pace. For example, some people were at higher altitudes, so their water boiled faster than others. It wasn’t until the second Table for Ten that we developed the plus-sign check-in. When we’re ready to move on to the next step, we ask everyone if they’re ready, too. If they’re all set, they throw up a plus-sign made with their two index fingers.
Alida: Another interesting obstacle was Rob’s tendency to not measure when he cooks. As most great chefs do, he cooks by intuition. (“Pinch of this, splash of that.”) This obviously doesn’t necessarily work when you’re leading a large group of individuals in cooking a recipe, particularly when they have different skill levels. I, however, am a “cook by the book” person, and I have a tough time just knowing that type of stuff. I’m not sure if it’s inexperience, or just differences in the ways our brains work, but I think it actually makes for a great complement in the kitchen. We can both learn a lot from each other, and I think that translates well to everyone else cooking along with us during Table for Ten.
How well has Table for Ten been received?
Alida: Amazingly well. We were the first cooking Hangout on Google+ and people really took to it. Word spread very quickly and the results went over better than we expected. Since launching this just a couple weeks ago, several people have approached us asking to write articles on it- from blogs to newspapers to Google+ features- and we get tagged all over Google+ as recommended people to follow for our creative use of the Hangout feature. Someone even referenced Table for Ten in a rap he wrote!
How do you see Table for Ten evolving in the future?
Alida: We’d like to bring in guest cooks to host with us, as well as open it up for other users to select recipes and take the lead as instructor in the Hangout. Similarly, we’re talking about doing a more shared, collaborative effort in which a few select users each choose a dish or course to take ownership of, and together we create a more elaborate, mutli-course meal.
Additionally, we’re talking with our friends at Dinner Party Records about joining forces to create an amalgamation of music, art, and food. It would be a multidimensional experience to feed all the senses and engage users even more.
Do you have any other projects in mind?
Rob: Well, we experimented just this past Wednesday with a live music Hangout at one of my DJ gigs. I host a weekly happy hour here in SF at Eve Lounge, and we decided on a whim to start a hangout session while I played. The inspiration came from a number of music-related comment threads on my and Alida’s pages. There were a ton of users from other areas of the world without direct access to thriving music scenes expressing how much they wished they could get exposure to more cutting-edge songs and artists. Again, given the way the Hangout feature breaks down geographical barriers, hosting a Hangout for plussers hungry for new music seemed like a natural fit. Anyone, anywhere can virtually participate in a live music event hosted from any location. Before we knew it the hangout was full of excited music-lovers really stoked to listen in. Alida chatted via the sidebar, I mixed records, and users were really engaged. They were asking questions about the tracks I was playing, reminiscing with each other about days past, giving each other artist recommendations… it was really cool to watch it naturally unfold. After seeing the immediate, positive response, we decided to do this on a regular basis, but expand on it by opening it up as a weekly Google+ meet-up. Bay Area G+ users will have the chance to meet each other in real life at Eve, and also host their own Hangouts on their laptops so they can stream the music, too, and connect with even more people. Circle both of us for details to be posted soon!
Table for Ten on YouTube
Table for Ten Screen Shots