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Google+ gets more sign-language friendly

John D. Sutter, CNN
A new feature on Google+ makes it easier to use sign language over video chats, the company says.
A new feature on Google+ makes it easier to use sign language over video chats, the company says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Google+ adds feature to help people who use sign language video chat
  • By clicking Shift+s on the keyboard, users can "take the floor" on a Google+ chat
  • Previously, whoever was talking the loudest got the floor on group chats
  • All chatters must mute their microphones for the sign-language feature to work

(CNN) -- A video-chat feature called Hangouts is one thing that sets Google+ apart from Facebook and Twitter.

When lots of people are chatting together in a Hangout, only one person "has the floor" at a time -- and you can tell who this person is because their video feed is by far the largest on your computer screen. Until recently, Google's computers used microphone volume to determine who got to be in control of the conversation. So the person yelling the loudest got control of the virtual chat.

One problem: What if you're using sign language?

With no sound input, Google+ didn't know which feed to prioritize. The feature was almost unusable for hearing-impaired people, since the person who had the most background noise in their video usually got the floor.

In a blog post earlier this week, however, Google engineer Chee Chew announced a simple fix.

By hitting shift+s on the keyboard, people using sign language can take control of the conversation.

It's like the digital version of waving for attention.

Everyone on the video chat has to mute their audio to make this feature work, Chew writes.

In the comments on Chew's post, users were excited about the update.

"This is brilliant," wrote a Google+ user named Jeannie June."Thanks a lot for being sensitive to the needs of your users. hits close to home coz my sister is deaf and i love her very much."

"Great idea, Google," wrote Charlie White on the tech blog Mashable, which is a CNN Tech partner site.

Others complained about the video quality on the service, saying it's difficult to see friends clearly.

Chew addressed this issue in his blog post, too.

"We've been aggressively improving the video quality and stability," he wrote. "It's still a huge challenge to transmit 10 video feeds to 10 end points, potentially all around the world. We still have lots of improvements we want to make. But I hope you see a substantial improvement in video stability in the past several weeks. This will be a never-ending effort."

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