Who are you, and what are you doing in my video call?

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Have you ever walked into a conference room, only to find out that someone else's meeting is already happening? You look at them. They look at you. Everybody is surprised, and a little uncomfortable. "What are you doing here?!"

You would think online meetings would mean the end of those awkward moments. And you would be wrong. As more and more people are using Google Video Calls (also known as Hangouts) it is happening in video calls too. The first time it happened to me, two Extension meetings collided, nobody knew what was going on, but we figured out a way forward. The second time it happened to me, I interrupted a meeting elsewhere on campus. Based on the look on the faces of the people whose meeting I walked in on, I was clearly an unexpected and unwelcome guest. But I knew what was happening, why it happened, and what to do about it. And now I'm blogging so you know what to do if it happens to you.

Creating a video call is a lot like reserving a conference room, except there is nothing that prevents someone else from also reserving your room, and there is no lock on the door. Which means that if you and I both pick the same name for our video call, we may unwittingly end up in the same room. 

That is what happened to me. Twice. Because I created my video calls in my calendar, and let Google pick the name for me. (I could have changed it. I didn't know why I might want to.) What name it picks goes like this:
  • If there is one person invited to the event: The user ID of the person in the meeting (generally the person creating the meeting)
  • If there are two people invited to the event: The user IDs of both people, separated by a hyphen
  • If there are three or more people invited to the event: As many whole words as it can grab with the first 15 characters of the meeting subject

Let's say I named a meeting "Extension Technology Meeting," you name yours "Extension Program Discussion," and a colleague names a meeting "Extension Facilitation." Google would name all of our calls "extension." If our events are at the same time, we will all end up on the same video call. But at least we know each other and have a good laugh. I wasn't so lucky with the video call named "SalesForce." I'm pretty sure I interrupted an important marketing discussion. 

So, what should you do?
  • Look at the name of your video calls. If it is something like "program" or "extension" change it to something else to avoid conflicts.
  • If you're having a large or high profile video call, pick a unique name. 
  • If you find yourself interrupting someone else's video call, leave their call and change the name of your video call. You can edit the name in your event, and send an update to all attendees.
  • If someone interrupts your call, explain this phenomenon to them, and suggest they rename their call. You were there first!
Why does this problem even exist? Because there's more to video calls than calendar events. While most video calls are created and joined by clicking on the call's name in an event, you can also create or join video calls by going to https://hangouts.google.com/ and by using the Hangouts App on your mobile device - both let you enter the name of the call you'd like to create or join. There's no way to know whether someone was invited. I very well may be using my iPhone to join the video call you linked to from your event. Because I'm a nerd like that.

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