YouTube Hangouts: Google’s secret weapon for Facebook

Google+ (s GOOG) has already seen some heavy traction in the first six weeks or so, attracting more than 25 million users since launch. Its next big growth driver might not come from the “+ tab” that runs atop Google services like Gmail or Google Reader but instead from the massive audience of people who¬†watch videos on YouTube.

When Google+ launched in late June, its Hangouts feature was seen as the killer app for connecting users with their friends. In addition to offering users a free and easy way to set up multiparty video chat sessions, it also integrated with YouTube, allowing users to create on-the-fly viewing parties with their friends.

Now YouTube has added Google+ Hangouts to its list of share options, making it even easier for users to launch an on-the-fly viewing party with friends. Those users will no longer have to launch a Hangout session from within Google+ and search for the video they want to share; now they can simply click a button in YouTube and have that Hangout session launch immediately.

We’ve long believed that online¬†video distributors need to make it easier for users to share what they’re watching with friends, but so far few have made it easy to do so. That’s led to some hacks, like the introduction last year of YouTube Social, a chat room built around YouTube videos. Now YouTube can offer a better user experience with Google’s video chat service.

But integrating the social viewing element into the online video site isn’t just a plus for YouTube users — it could also increase user adoption at Google+ by offering a new entry point to the nascent social network. YouTube is the No. 1 video site in the world, serving up more than 3 billion video views each day. More importantly, it could bring a whole new group of users into the fold by hitting the mostly young, mainstream audience that tunes into YouTube for entertainment.

While Google+ has seen some quick and early traction, its user base is still crawling with the early-adopter tech set. To provide a real alternative to Facebook, it will need to get so-called regular users hooked on the service as well. Hooking into YouTube and providing video chat functionality that wasn’t previously available — and isn’t available on competitors like Facebook — is one way to do so.