“Is Google Glass going to take off? Do you really think everyone will want to wear those ridiculous glasses?”
The grey-suited executive who asked me the question was in his early 50s and had 30 years of print experience, man and boy. It was true: He would look ridiculous in his suit wearing Google Glasses.
But across the way in the Googleplex, skinny-jeaned tech heads with shoulder bags, riding scooters, were inventing the future. On them, the look is pretty cool.
So I pointed out that hyper-colour T-shirts, bubble skirts, and mullet hairstyles were all really bad fashion statements. But we had loved them. And none of them connected us to the Internet as we walked down the street. So, yeah, I reckoned it was a technology we needed a strategy for.
But the precursor to Glass is a new breed of mobile apps that are here now. And because you can keep your mobile in your pocket, there is no need for us to feel obliged to go all Coco Chanel (let’s be honest – we’d never pull it off).
All three of these apps use a new technology that recognises your location and doesn’t just show you where you are, but connects you to things of interest, or people of interest, and helps you learn something new.
On the face of it, several are freaky in a “could be used by weird stalker and result in a tabloid headline” kind of way. But look past that and they become completely cool with enormous potential for news companies.
Here are three I’ve discovered so far:
- Highlight: Business Insider described this as the “creepiest app in the world” back in 2012. When you sign in to the Highlight app, it scans your social media profile and contacts and “matches” it to other Highlighters who are near you.
Your smartphone will then ping you every time you cross paths with someone you know (which is kind of cool), or someone who has similar interests to you (which, when they only have one or two obscure things in common, is odd and discomforting).
You can send them a message and get to know each other or meet up. Hooking up with other desperate loners aside, the app comes into its own when someone you do know is nearby at an unexpected location (such as at the airport) or a conference. (“Hey, Mario, I didn’t know you were going to the INMA conference. We have to catch up for a drink!”)
- Tinder: To the happily partnered, Tinder seems icky, but my single friends swear by it. Tinder scans your location and allows you to anonymously flick through photos and interests of the people who are around you who have subscribed to the service.
If you like the look – and sound – of someone, you can send them a heart. Their phone pings. They check out your profile. And if they heart you back, well, the rest is up to you.
So if you go to a pub, you can virtually scan the crowd, learn that the cute guy in the corner shares your obsession with One Direction and U.S. foreign policy, and before you know it, you’re buying each other drinks in real life. It doesn’t have to result in a horizontal polka. You could, you know, just be friends. Ha. Right.
- Field Trip: Google’s new app is still in beta. It has identified landmarks, places of interest, and restaurants all over the world. And if you have alerts turned on, your phone will bleep you and let you know you’re passing something interesting.
Using it when you’re on your daily commute gets boring (yes, I KNOW that is the Sydney Opera House). But in a new place, the app is quirky and cool and can help you learn something new or discover a place to eat with a good Zagat rating.
The most interesting thing about Field Trip is that it attaches information to locations and then pings you when you pass that information point.
These three apps offer an insight into the way media is heading because they make the connection between information, location, personal preferences, social circles, and alerts.
I don’t think the future of media is in organising hook-ups or giving people better tools to help them stalk each other.
But I do like the idea of walking down a street in my neighbourhood and having my phone tell me about a news event nearby, or a special offer at a favourite store, or an event coming up, or that traffic on the interstate is blocked on my way home and to take another route – all information that is at the heart of every great newspaper.
Newspapers are, at their very core, aggregated and curated content delivered to an audience. How cool would it be if that delivery was in your pocket 24/7, gently reminding you regularly of its relevance according to your preferences?
That’s a look that could even be worn with a suit!