Google has always had a big-tent, pseudo-public-service bent to its branding: “Don’t be evil”, “Organize the world’s information,” and the like. Google doesn’t position its products as Apple-like status symbols. Android is for anyone and everyone; even the ubiquitous slang “google it” couldn’t have caught on if the company’s search technology weren’t omnipresent and omni-accessible. Which makes the rollout of Google’s potentially world-changing Glass product seem strange. First, you have to audition on Twitter (or Google+) for access to the product: Google says it’s seeking “bold, creative individuals”. They could also add “rich” to that list: if Google selects your “application,” you still have to cough up $1500 for your pair of techno-specs.
#ifihadglass is the blue-sky slogan Google has attached to this scheme, but a more accurate one might be FUBU: “for us, by us.” The only people walking around “shaping the future of Glass” are going to be media-savvy technophiles with a lot of disposable income – or as TechCrunch calls them, “Glassholes.”
Snarking aside, does this make a certain kind of sense? Sure. Glass is likely to be somewhat buggy, and (according to a Google spokesperson who agreed to comment on background), the company wants a cohort of beta-testers who will find unpredictable user experiences exciting, rather than annoying. Using social media as a selection pool makes sense, too: if you aren’t an active Twitter user, you probably wouldn’t even know what to do with Glass if someone handed a pair to you.
So, sure, it makes sense. It just doesn’t feel very… Googley. Don’t get me wrong, stunty contests and limited rollouts are great: remember Google Fiber? Cloaking an entire town in gigabit internet is a very Googley thing to do. And simply removing (or reducing?) the $1500 “winning fee” could have given Google a much broader cross-section of motivated applicants for Glass (all still self-selected from a pool of technologically-literate social-media users). But instead of showing us a big-tent vision of how wearable computing can change the world, Google seems more interested in creating a velvet-rope experience for members of its own elite, early-adopter clique.
I’ll admit it: I’m jealous that I won’t be getting my own hands on Glass. But as a card-carrying member of the “media-savvy technophiles” cohort that Google is courting (albeit sans “a lot of disposable income,” in my case), I can say with confidence that we’re the most boring group of people to deploy this technology to. You don’t solve wearable computing’s “jetpack problem” by only handing the things out to people who would happily wear (and pay a ton of money for) jetpacks just for the fun of it. It’s not the “bold, creative individuals” who will “shap[e] the future of Glass”. It’s everyone else: the delivery guy, the office manager, the college student, the working mother, the traffic cop, the barista. You know, the people who turned “google” into a verb, drove Android to dominate the mobile OS market, and use Gmail and Gcal every day.
These people are bold, creative, and curious about new technology too – they just don’t make a living or ostentatious lifestyle out of it. Let’s be honest: Google definitely wants Glass, or something like it, to take over the world. But the world isn’t made up of Glassholes. So why start there?