Thursday, December 4, 2014

Reframing Google Glass and journalism

A Kingston police officer uses Google Glass.
"Google Glass — the high-tech wearable augmented reality device— has the potential to reshape journalism for both consumers and producers."
I wrote that in Sept. 2013.

Does that hold up today?

Well, yes, if the operative word is potential. And no, if you're looking for current device applications.

Let me explain.

Google Glass is very much a beta tool today, even after many updates and upgrades — and the current version will likely stay that way. It's clunky looking and still has a poor battery life (though that's being worked on, according to the Wall Street Journal).

And yes, it has a PR problem.

But hilarious "Daily Show" takedows aside, as a journalist, my real concern is with the device's usefulness for doing and consuming stories and experiences, along with whatever ethical implications that might arise from them.

In the news producing front, its useful applications are currently limited to taking photos, videos, livestreaming (if you can withstand The Shaking Of The Head view), and sharing to Google+, Youtube, Facebook and Tumblr. Battery life plays a part in your ability to do this.

Twitter recently removed its app from the Glassware store, but I never deleted mine so I can still post directly to it. I had a longstanding ticket with both Google and Twitter because my photos were posting twice, so I stopped and now post photos to Twitter via Tumblr with an IFTTT recipe.

I also have a reddit recipe. UPVOTE!
Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of apps. LOTS. These are just the sanctioned ones available in the Glassware site:

Glass apps as of Dec. 4, 2014

But since I'm mostly concerned with journalistic applications (the Freeman paid for my pair, after all), only some of these apps are useful in the field. And if you think about it, all these useful apps are ones that are available in smartphones.

What cannot be done with a smartphone, however, is to replicate the Google Glass experience.

Also, Glass videos are great if you want to make gifs from them.

So that's a strategy we've tinkered with for storytelling, once giving the device to a police officer for a day and another time with a firefighter (if you have any ideas for that type of feature or will like to participate, send me a line or post a comment below).

The storytelling experience, however, means that the device itself becomes part of the story.
And that's fine!

The problem arises when you try to use it for regular coverage of events.

Because you can't be a fly on the wall with a computer on your face.
Sinterklaas in Kingston 2014. 

People will notice you. Repeatedly. They will stop you and talk to you and ask you questions, even when you are the one who wants to ask the questions. This works in personal settings (it's an amazing conversation-piece) but not so well on deadline. And if you are using it for news coverage, be also prepared to lend the device.

Yes, Paul Rudd is dreamy.
I have to say that in my personal experience in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills, all interactions have been positive, even with politicians. High five!

News consumption

When it comes to news consumption, Google Glass is almost there, but not quite.

There are smartphone apps like Circa or Breaking News that would translate wonderfully to Glass. The New York Times feature 'Watching' is also pretty much ready for Glass, if it were to be atomized  (by that I mean each news item on its own card, or screen. Also, hint, hint). Current Glass news apps like the New York Times, the Guardian, Mashable Velocity and CNN feel like afterthoughts, though it's commendable that they're there.

The best way to currently experience news in Glass, for me, is to have a Tumblr account following  many news sources and add those Tumblr updates to Google Glass. The problem with that, of course (if you consider it a problem), is that you end up with a lot of wacky Tumblr posts from the news sites themselves because, well, that's Tumblr for you. But the idea is the same: Atomize the news. That will transcend the device.

There are still my untapped possibilities. There's an Easter Egg where you can see the Glass team almost in augmented reality fashion. That could work for news consumption in 'you're there'-type settings. And there's an Explore Stars app. So the geo-tagged application of news I wanted last year is very much possible.

But let's not lose sight of one thing: Google Glass has always been an experiment and it's but one tool. I'm heartened to see journalists and educators like Robert Hernandez, Jeremy Littau  and many others try to figure out uses for the device.

So, yes, Google Glass is not there yet. Perhaps it will never be, though the potential is still there.
Nevertheless, there are invaluable lessons that can be learned from it about the present and future of news production, distribution and consumption. Let's hope the news industry is at least paying attention.

Because you know what else is also an experiment? Journalism.

The race to go from digital first to mobile first to wearable-first or internet-of-things-first or chip-in-your-head-first or whatever-silly-thing-comes-up-next-just-be-platform-agnostic-first is speeding up. And that drone and Oculus Rift you're making fun of now should tip you off that as platforms come and go, the way we consume news is being transformed dramatically. Google Glass provides a clear window into what things can become.

So let's keep experimenting and breaking things. I certainly will.

Did you really think I was going to have a post without cats?