Santa Fe Opera #throughglass

So what are you seeing in your Google Glass?

Sandia Mountains

The Sandia Mountains near Santa Fe, #throughglass

The Glass Chronicles, III: Summer of #glass

Okay, so I didn’t take Google Glass to Italy in July. It seemed to me, as I was packing, that I wanted neither the distraction of explaining it to security guards, nor the potential data-roaming charges from tethering it to my iPhone as I was wandering around Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome. (Also, after a solid month of videotaping lectures for my MOOC about the media and Google, the idea of taking the device threatened to make the trip feel like work instead of vacation.) In retrospect, however, I can see that my fellow tourists might have had some good ideas about how to deploy it, and that the convenience of hands-free operation of a good digital camera might have been  worthwhile … as long as I didn’t turn into one of those people who snaps photos inside the Uffizi without actually looking at the art.

Santa Fe Opera #throughglass

Santa Fe Opera, #throughglass

That lesson learned, it was an easier call to take Glass to Santa Fe for a couple of weeks in August. First of all, there was the necessity of actually using the add-on sunglasses that I modeled in my previous post. Second, no roaming charges, even while roaming near the Santa Fe Opera. And third, what a fine place to get a few more ideas from “real people.” One outcome is that I decided that the results of Medill’s spring survey of mobile users about Glass are pretty much on the money: Easily half of the people I encountered knew exactly what I was wearing — and  most of them claimed interest in joining the ranks of the Glassy-eyed. (Well, maybe not the cashier in the chocolate shop, but definitely the one in the jewelry store.)

Upon my return I exchanged emails with my Medill colleague Jeremy Gilbert, who recently headed out to New York to pick up his own Glass. (The folks at Google gave me a chance to suggest another user, and it seemed obvious that doubling the number of Medill profs in the fold would at least double our chances of thinking of interesting journalism applications.) That gave me a chance to reflect on my experiences so far, and therefore I quote my half of the correspondence subject to some editing for clarity:

“I think there is a clear use case for adding layers to one’s environment [while walking around] … in fact, it seems like one of the strongest current potential use cases. Blair Kamin’s new e-book for the Nieman Foundation on the gates of Harvard Yard might well be translated to Glass. And I think there are several domains worth exploring:

  1. How will journalists (citizen and otherwise) integrate Glass into newsgathering?
  2. How will users want to experience news on Glass? (I am pretty certain it will NOT be anything like the current apps available from news organizations, for a long list of reasons you can probably surmise.)
  3. What hybrids will there be — simultaneous creation and consumption, or near-simultaneous? Will Glass be a reasonable tool for uses beyond data and bulletins? (A future generation of Glass, anyway?)

“Google’s predilection for predicting what we want to know now via Google Now does seem perfect for Glass. Traffic, scores, weather, flight information, calendar items. Are there journalistic applications for this?

“Mostly when I walk around with Glass I am struck by people’s questions. ‘Can it do X?’ Yes, it can search the Internet; yes, it can take pictures and videos. No, it’s not very good yet at sharing pictures and videos with individual people, especially random ones you meet on the street. Etc.

“As always for me the watchword is convenience. Amazingly convenient way to take pictures and search the Web and get the weather. Not too convenient yet for any but the most black-and-white, un-nuanced news. Has to get better if we want it to be more than Headline News for the right eyeball.”

I also see hybrid use cases that could push the device into something useful for almost anyone: plumbers and electricians in tight spaces, for instance, doing a video call with someone back at the office or out in the truck. Pragmatically speaking, if Glass is going to match executives’ goals for it to supply 3% of Google revenue by 2015 as Nick Bilton reported in the New York Times in February, those sorts of non-geek applications will need to proliferate.

Maybe some of those will suggest themselves as my online students and I plunge into the aforementioned MOOC. It launches Sept. 16, and today we reached a milepost if not a milestone: Enrollment reached the 33,000 marks that was reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a median for the courses offered at the time of their spring survey.  See you in class.

About Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Formerly senior vice president/strategy and development, Chicago Tribune.