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The Impending Headache of Google Glass Apps

Glass apps will require people to create new content filters. Maybe that’s just a losing battle.

Would you want your daily horoscope beamed to your right eye? That’s the vision of the future I saw when I tried out the fashion magazine Elle’s app for Google Glass yesterday, one of several apps announced at the extravagant software developer love-fest the internet company puts on every year.

Glass office hours at Google I/O this week. Will these desks one day be as common as the Apple genius bar?

The Elle app will feed information to Glass wearers’ timelines, including horoscopes, select headlines and fashion photos. Elle’s owner Hearst Corp. sees it as a test trial for many other media brands it owns. 

I admittedly already had a headache when I tried on Glass to demo the app, what with all the jostling to make the packed sessions on Glass and trying to snag a bit of the 1,800 pounds of free snacks that came straight from the Googleplex (and yes, Valleywag, also a $1,300 Chromebook Pixel—with full intent to return once my colleague tries it out). But after five minutes trying to navigate the Glass app, I immediately left to down two Advils. I’m not even sure what the horoscope said. Glass tried to read it to me outloud, but the noise level in the conference hall was too loud to hear much at all.

The headache, the noise. It’s the same problem I see with some of these early apps, really with the entire idea that anyone will want to consume information on Glass that is any small degree away from useful in the moment. Navigation directions when you’re lost are useful, and actually provide value in front of my face. Maybe, maybe, a shopping list when I’m at the grocery store, as one might pull up with Evernote’s new Glassware, as the apps are called.

But do I want to see New York Times news alerts near my field of vision? Or random Tweets, even from my very closest, most curated connections? What about Facebook timeline updates? Um, probably not, and certainly not all together. If I do, I promise, my phone or maybe even a future smartwatch are short glance away. 

Both Google and the media and Web companies producing these apps are clearly emphasizing that content in the Glass timeline must be more finely curated and immediately useful than on a phone. Using the CNN Glass app, for example, one can set the time of day headlines are sent and preferences for the kinds of updates received. But people aren’t good at being their own filters, and anyone who uses Glass will have to be given that app options will only grow from here. My own filter is filled with gaping holes carved out by best intentions. On my phone and in my desktop news feed, there are endless streams of content I hope to read and 99 percent ignore. On Glass, ignoring will be an even bigger and more overwhelming management task.

At a session on Glass for developers, Google’s Timothy Jordan talked in depth about the special considerations for Glass apps. He noted the timeline of “cards” that apps feed to a Glass wearer are inherently ephemeral. A Glass user won’t likely scroll back more than a few cards, and so the timeline inherently “decays,” he said. That’s why he advises app creators not to include a “Delete” option on their card notifications. Because it is unnecessary.

Glass has potentially amazing and potentially foreboding features (see “Treading Carefully, Google Encourages Developers to Hack Glass”). And perhaps mags like Elle could one day help people identify the dresses in a store and store it on a shopping list, for example.

But the real value of Glass will not be in how people interact with what’s already on the web. That will just give everyone a big headache.

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