Google Glass and Journalism
Getting to where news should be
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.
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 then 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 recently). 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.
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.
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 that should be here already.
So I applied.
And I was picked.
Google Glass — the high-tech wearable augmented reality device— has the potential to reshape journalism for both consumers and producers.
I should know.
When Google opened its Glass “Explorer” program, in which a group of people would be selected to get a pair, I applied on Twitter using the hashtag “#ifIHadGlass,” sending a pitch about why I should be chosen to be one of the 8,000 experimental participants.
I didn't think I was going to get picked. And I probably would not have been if I hadn't been challenge by Adrienne LaFrance, as the exchange above illustrates.
It was one of those explanations to her that evoked the reply from Google Glass.
So I obtained a pair (The current explorer edition was $1,500, so the company I work for, Digital First Media, was kind enough to pay for it).
It was time to deliver.
I have now spent two and a half months with the device, both as a consumer and producer. And although it is still in very much in the early stages, I have come to the conclusion that Google Glass can disrupt the news industry once again.
I know, just what you wanted to hear.
In the short time with the device, I've used it during a live forum with a congressman; I've covered festivals and fairs; I've even teamed with an area film festival to improve our live coverage; I've taken and posted photos and videos about the community that were well received.
I should note that, as an editor, most of my work day is spent at a desk. I have no idea how I've manage to do all of this.
For journalistic purposes, I’ve been doing explainers, including a reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ session, and have been developing Glass techniques, tips, tricks for journalists, and thinking about news apps from a user’s point of view.
There are as many things you can do with Glass as there are story ideas.
What it means for journalism
From a journalist’s perspective:
Currently, Google Glass can help improve journalism by enhancing live coverage, communication and engagement.
Enhancing live coverage: It’s much easier to take photos and videos with Glass. I can’t stress this enough. It’s the equivalent of having a phone ready to take a picture or video right in front of you at all times. You can easily cover fires, protests, floods, conferences, fairs, you name it. The coverage benefits from having eyes on the ground, and allowing your audience to be part of that experience.
Improving communications and engagement: You could be at an event while having a video conference in which your intended audience could see what you are covering. This could be to help reporters, or for the reporter at the scene to give the newsroom a live sense of the scene. You can also make calls and send and get priority emails to selected contacts.
The potential: I do have a longer list of things you can’t (yet) do with Google Glass, though I’m pretty sure they will be developed. I’m my ideal scenario, you could host a public live video stream of an event via Glass via Hangouts on Air (there’s a way around it, but it ends up being easier to use a phone instead), where you could theoretically video conference with news makers or at news event and share that while having live participants.
Tim Pool of Vice used his Android device to find a way to livestream with Glass:
“When there’s a wall of police firing plastic bullets at you, and you’re running through a wall of tear-gas, having your hands free to cover your face, while saying ‘OK Glass, record a video’, makes that recording process a lot… easier.”
Sarah Hill, an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, put it bluntly:
“Glass – and other wearable devices – will turn satellite trucks and bulky equipment into museum pieces.”
Mandy Jenkins, a colleague at Digital First Media, brainstormed some ideas with some folks from the Online News Association, about what Glass could offer. Among them was to “Incorporate augmented reality layering with reporter created and curated information about a local area or landmark.”
From a user’s perspective:
As far as apps go, the current news apps (CNN and New York Times) act like small updates (though CNN has video updates, and that’s a nice touch (except for that twerking girl on fire video update a while back. BAD CNN!). There are a couple of others, but they all need work.
I would like to see media organizations develop apps that provide news and information that matter to one’s daily life: What’s the price of that house I’m looking at right now and what are the crime stats in that very area?; How expensive is that restaurant and what’s the story behind its building? What’s that song I’m hearing and is the band playing nearby? (Glass latest update does have a Shazaam-like song recognition search).
The potential to improve journalism (and yes, money guys, to monetize this) is there.
Sure, Glass is just a tool, but it’s a tool that changes the way we experience news. And the change is coming.
So the question is, will the news industry be blind to Glass?