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Google+ welcomes sign language users to Hangouts

September 15, 2011 |  1:18 pm

Google+ is getting more friendly for sign language users.

Until recently, Hangouts, the social network's video chat feature, reflected life. When people are chatting in a Hangout, the loudest one often "gets the floor" -- and control of the virtual chat. Google simply used microphone volume to determine who seized control of the conversation.

But that threw a wrench into any group communicating using sign language. With little sound input, the person with the most background noise usually got the floor.

Then Google announced a quick fix last weekend via blog post:

If all chat participants mute their audio, anyone who wants to say something can hit Shift+s on their keyboard. That person will show up as the biggest video box on the video feed, and can sign away with control of the floor.

"[N]ote that this only works when you are muted," Chee Chew, a Google engineer, wrote in the post, "and once you've 'taken the floor' no one else can take the floor for a few seconds. we did this to arbitrate if multiple people do it at the same time."

In response to Chew's post, commenters were pleased with the update .

"What a thoughtful idea!" Christa Laser, another Google+ user, wrote. "Nice work."

"I think this is so wonderful," wrote Mike Dickinson. "I do have an idea, once you improve the video, think about getting someone to teach sign language through the hangouts."


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Photo: Women work at laptops in front of a Google logo at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany in 2006. Credit: Torsten Silz / Associated Press