Google And Its Problem of Communication
Google Glass is interesting. I think it will be a reasonable success, but the bigger success of it will be that it moves our idea of human social norms into a new place, allowing for far more interesting explorations to follow in its wake.
From journalism to military uses, from adventuring to capturing memories, Glass enables and empowers people in new ways, much like how the iPhone did in 2007. Small, portable—and now, wearable—computers are at the heart of most if not all major innovations going forward, and Google was smart to pursue it to the next level with Glass.
Many people joke and mock about the idea of wearing these glasses, the same way people joked and mocked about Siri and talking to your phone itself. Eventually, people get over the jokes, and acceptance takes place—they may not participate, but they stop making the jokes. Today’s mockery is nothing more than people being uncomfortable with this shift in the behavioral norms we accept as a society. While Glass still has you talking to a device, the value proposition is significantly different and more interesting, as are the use cases. With the increased value, I think more people will be willing to give it a try—and not just tech nerds.
Is Glass really the new cool? Or will it utterly fail and will those people just look ridiculous? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Glass offers significant empowerment and value (unlike Segways, a frequent product of comparison), and in better ways than Siri or Google Now. That’s why I think we’ll see a pretty big shift in our social norms post-Glass.
All that said, I have a lot of questions about Google’s communication around Glass.
At TED, co-founder Sergey Brin called smartphones “emasculating.” How does using a smartphone make you weaker or lesser? (I doubt Brin was going for the far more offensive “more like a woman.”) That aside, what does it mean that he thinks this is the most noteworthy problem with smartphones today? If anything, our smartphones are extremely empowering.
Moving along, how is making yourself look like a cyborg less emasculating than staring down at a handheld electronic device? Brin complains we’re “just rubbing this featureless piece of glass.” His product is literally called Glass.
Google tries to sell Glass under the party line of “it’s cooler than a phone” but fails to communicate this using any intelligible messaging. How is frequently using the phrase “ok glass” cool, in any way at all? Google’s video for what Glass feels like gives a great impression that is, in my opinion at least, also quite cool. Why doesn’t the rest of their communication match that? It all feels rather defensive, as if the worry is that Glass is not “macho” enough to sell well—but what does that say about his assumed audience?
Google are trying to sell a camera that you put on your face, and asking you to give them direct access to your first-person viewing experiences in life; for a company that already has a bad reputation when it comes to creepiness, they would do well to consider their messaging with extreme care for people’s concerns. The last thing they need right now is appealing more to the creepier segment of tech nerds, rather than the market of all people. If anything were to impede the success of Glass, that would be it.
Glass is great technology, but in the end these products are all about how we as people use them. Apple gets that really well; Google needs to follow suit—now more than ever.