Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Through the Google Glass (and journalism): Part I

Getting to where news should be

The scene

I imagine a scenario in the near future (of news).

I imagine seeing a house I want to buy; using a device to get an augmented reality display of the home's real estate value; and googling for news nearby, finding a story of a murder, with an augmented reality body chalk outline on the street (I know, it's 'Law and Order' cheesy, but bear with me).

I have a mental picture of this scenario, not much different from that horrible Photoshop job above. I've been thinking about this for more than two years, but as a real thing and not a scene from Minority Report or Iron Man.

The layer

I've actually been trying to find ways to do this for a while. I found this tweet from July 2011.

I don't think this was a particularly original thought and figured a news organization was going to come up with something like this back then (we were all then also playing with Quick Response codes. Remember those?).

So some years ago, I wanted an app for that. I know, it sounds crazy. I mean, a small newspaper journalist looking to buy a house sure sounds like science fiction.

The app idea, however, didn’t sound crazy to me. I thought the technological capabilities were there already. 

Look at this screen below. It's a screenshot of an Instagram Augmented Reality feed on an iPhone's Layar app (taken today). Now look at the first image above.

Back then, Instagram wasn't available as a feed, but there were geo-tagged Twitter layers and even a Pac-man augmented reality game.

At the time, I was thinking that if you could turn your regular newspaper or news site into a geographically-coded Google map, this could be done. This meant having all the news stories, ads, listings, classifieds, etc. from a news organization automatically placed on a map. This would eventually be done thanks to a hypothetical and integrated content management system made in Journalism Heaven and not the one that's separate from the website that strips out all the links, a CMS that shall remain nameless.
From then it would just be a matter of exporting that map file and then uploading it to a third party tool (also from Journalism Heaven) that would easily turn this information into an augmented reality layer. 

The execution

Doing all this seemed a bit difficult, but the idea was (and is) simple: Relevant news organized around me.

I was thinking of using the Layar app on an Android phone or iPhone to display and BuildAR to make it.
I built a rudimentary augmented reality layer from scratch, since I couldn't automatically do it with the aforementioned nameless content management system. I figured the CMS would eventually get there.
But I ran into some tech problems (basically, I don’t know code) and budgetary concerns (basically, I didn’t have any money).

So I dropped the idea thinking that some news organization would jump on this, for sure.
And, for sure, they didn't.

The drawback
There were some logistical problems.

Much like Quick Response codes, getting an extra app on top of an app and using a somewhat cumbersome interface to do something didn't seem intuitive or the right way to go. And I didn't want to build something just because it was cool (OK, I kind of did a little bit).
But also like QR, it did seem like interactivity outside of a desktop experience was something that was going to change the way we use news.

The new hope
And then the Google Glass explorer program came around.

I thought of floating real estate price listings and police chalk outlines again.
I was imagining the future of news once more.
But I was tired of imagining things what should be here already.

So I applied. And I was picked.

To be continued.

Note: I consider this piece a work in progress, so I've been updating it with edits since first published earlier this afternoon.