GreenTech LogoIn April, TechSoup will be kicking off a TeleGreening Your Workplace campaign to help social benefit organizations discover ways to save money, reduce travel, and still be effective in your work. One way nonprofits and libraries can reduce their carbon footprint from travel is to try out new tools for virtual meetings. One free video conferencing service is Gmail voice and video chat that has been evaluated below by Monica Skinner, who is a San Francisco-based architect and GreenTech volunteer. She has also been an assistant zoo keeper at the Franklin Park Zoo in New England and enjoys traveling, surfing, camping, volleyball, and biking.

My Gmail Voice and Video Chat Experience


I have always had a webcam on my computer and for the first time, without interruption, I have been using it. Having just moved across the country, I have often wondered how to use video chat to stay connected. I knew Skype existed but since I am not very tech-savvy, it always seemed overly ambitious for me.

Recently, though, a friend who works at Google informed me about Gmail voice and video chat as a user-friendly application. I pondered the idea and decided to test it out and few clicks later I was up and running. I am now connecting with folks I haven't seen in months. I also gave directions over the phone to a friend and received a tour of her apartment and face-to-snout time with her dog within minutes. We joked about adding someone else to the conversation — a feature Google might want to work on down the road.

The download is simple, easy and free. The picture is clear and voice communication is flawless. This application can be used without the camera and can just be voice activated all while continuing to work online. I am working on a laptop so there may be a difference in capturing capabilities if a webcam is bigger or mounted differently. Overall, it was easy to connect and begin to use this feature. Finally, I may have roll-over minutes left at the end of the month. I've written basic instructions for getting up and running with this tool below!

Download Time: 1-2 minutes

Browser Used: Internet Explorer

Nonprofit Usability: 5 stars

1. Install Gmail if you haven't already. Make sure your computer has a webcam or, find NEW FEATURES when signing into Gmail on the bottom right. Scroll down to find "Talk face-to-face with gmail voice and video chat and learn more."

2. Once you are signed into Gmail you will see options in the upper left hand corner for calendar, documents, more, and other options. Select the "more" dropdown list to select "even more" where you'll be taken to a different page with a full selection of Google options

3. In the Communicate, Show, and Share section, select "Talk. "

*Select the link on the page that says "Video chat right from Gmail" to ensure you download video chat rather than only downloading Google Talk.

4. After the installation you will be asked to reload your browser. You may need to reload your browser twice, as I did.

5. Once you have reloaded your browser you will find a small camera icon appearing next to your name in gmail chat. To chat live with other users they will also need to have installed video chat.

6. To start, double-click to connect with someone, then select "Video & more" and "start voice chat" (there will be a camera icon here). For only voice chatting, select the microphone. The connection will ring like a phone and automatically turn on your webcam. The video has a picture in picture feature so you will be able to see yourself as well as the other person. To make things helpful you can click the "pop out" icon to enlarge the screen or the view in full screen mode.

7. Chat away!