A chat with Google’s Seattle video-chat guru

If you want to be at the forefront of video social networking, Seattle is the place to be, not Silicon Valley.

A month ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced an “awesome” launch coming out of the company’s growing Seattle office, which turned out to be Facebook’s video chat link up with Skype.

About the same time, Google trial-launched its broadside against Facebook, the social Google+ service. One of the most arresting features is Hangouts, a service that lets up to 10 people video-chat simultaneously. And it’s designed by a bunch of engineers just the other side of Lake Washington in Seattle.

Hangouts is the creation of a team run by Chee Chew, engineering director at Google’s 500-person Kirkland office, who has been at the company for four years after 14 years at neighbors Microsoft.

Comparisons are inevitable, but Chew says Hangouts is aiming for a different sort of user than Facebook and Skype. It’s not really video-conferencing, he says – with a set time, leader and agenda – it’s more like hanging randomly with whoever happens to be around.

First Look at the Google+ social network: The Top Secret Demo

One thing that’s clear about Google is that they’ve mastered the art of subterfuge.

At a time when leaks about product launches, acquisitions and potential hires are rife, Google resorted to extraordinary measures to ensure that word of its new social network, Google+, did not slip out ahead of Tuesday’s official announcement.

The company reached out to Reuters late on Friday about a special briefing related to some undisclosed YouTube news, even tasking a YouTube PR-man with a curious sartorial style to coordinate the meeting, to complete the red-herring.