New Google+ Extension Adds Real-Time Code Collaboration to Hangouts

The developer who previously brought us the Facebook Friend Exporter, Mohamed Mansour, has created a new, experimental Google Chrome extension which adds text-based document collaboration capabilities to Google+ Hangouts. For those of you not yet versed in all the G+ terminology, Hangouts are the multi-person video chat feature in Google’s social networking service, supporting up to 10 people at a time.

With this new Hangout extension, now you can do more than simply chat – you can collaborate on text-based files, too. Mansour suggests this would be a great extension for developers to use for code collaboration, for example.

Buggy, but Works

A few caveats, before we continue: this extension is “horribly buggy” (Mansour’s words, not mine). It’s an alpha product meant to be a technology preview, not something you should expect to use in a real-world or mission-critical situation by any means. It doesn’t seem to work on Mac computers, either. Attempting to load the extension on my MacBook Pro gave me an error message. On my Windows 7 PC, however, it worked.

The extension was developed without access to an official Google+ API (application programming interface), since such a thing does not yet exist. In other words, like all Google+ Chrome extensions to date, it’s an unsanctioned hack.

It is also quite awesome.

Technical Details

Mansour says that Hangouts are currently powered using the legacy Google Wave technology and jQuery using Google Shared Spaces. To build the extension, he imitated the YouTube Hangout Gadget and intercepted all messages coming from Google Wave to the extension. The extension broadcasts a unique ID which is stored in Wave that every participant can read when they join. That ID is persistant for that Hangout session only.

It’s a fairly complex hack, Mansour admits. Luckily for us, he’s posted the code to GitHub so others can contribute.

How to Use

To use the extension, you first install the add-on from the Chrome Web Store, then head over to Google+ and start a Hangout. There’s nothing more you have to do – the text-editing interface appears directly in the Hangout window, above the video screens.

But in order for other Hangout participants to share code with you, they, too, will need to install the extension.

The extension was made possible with support from John Barrington Craggs and Jake McCuistion, Mansour says. If you give it a shot, let us know how well it fared for you.