Will Google Glass change search? Maybe we’re missing the point.

Created: Joel Klettke
Categories: Google, Search

Google Glass – mega-dorky misfire, or game-changing tech? Ever since Google announced the project and started pumping out promo videos, controversy has surrounded the geeky goggles, from legal concerns to famous CEOs hilariously calling for a swift punch in the face for anyone caught wearing them.

The Simpsons even gave the technology a thinly-veiled parody, highlighting some of the uneasiness that admittedly, I also have with the product. The thought of a bunch of people sitting in a room talking to their glasses or fondling the sides of them is nearly as tragic as what we have now…  25 bowed heads all worshipping at the altar of their smart phones.

But for their part, Google insists that he tech is meant to connect people, not separate them; Sergey Brin talks about this in his painfully awkward infomercial TEDTalk on Google Glass:

But did you notice something else? Sergey Brin restates his vision of a query-less world. The goal is an experience where information simply arrives as you need it, without even asking for it.

THAT is what I think is most important when considering what Glass means for the search engine world.

Bold Predictions; Interesting Ideas

Daniel Cristo of Catalyst got imaginative with his response to that question on Marketing Land, in a post called "7 Ways Google Glass Will Change Search, And How It Should Change Your Marketing".

In that piece, Cristo shares some pretty bold ideas about how much of an impact Glass is going to have. He makes some very smart points about the kinds of content that Glass users will want to consume (visual/audio, because reading and scrolling is onerous), but he also asserts that:

  • Because Glass' search system operates on "Cards" that need to be cumbersomely waved away with a hand motion, few searchers will go beyond the first few results (so being top 2 is tantamount). This also throws more importance on coming up for long-tail, specific queries.
  • Glass' ability to translate well will do away with the need for language and country variants of Google, creating a "Universal" Google.com in which you’re competing against every other site on the web
  • Glass will usher in the golden reign of Google+, as people flock to get the tech which necessitates that you be on Google+ on account of heavy integration with the platform. Because Google+ is integrated with Glass and Facebook is not, Facebook will ultimately dwindle into obscurity, lose all their stuff and elect a new CEO
  • Google+ will also facilitate a more personalized web (similar to what it does on desktop), making it even more important for marketers to start using the platform and tapping the shoulders of influential people so that their content is more likely to be seen.

While I applaud his willingness to stick his neck out and make bold predictions, on these points, I couldn’t disagree with Cristo more. I don't think it’s wise to treat Glass like a search engine strapped to your face instead of what it's intended to be – an accessory to your everyday life that just so happens to be powered by Google.  

Glass is Built for Answers, Not Search Results

For starters, Glass is not made for traditional search as we know it. It's got a tiny screen and a card system that shows just one result at a time. It could read articles aloud to you – but I can honestly say I've never wanted to hear Siri recite a 2,000-word length article directly into my ear bones, and I can't see others wanting that, either (though maybe the future is so bright I'm blinded).

On the subject of long-tail queries becoming more important: Have we already forgotten Hummingbird and the Knowledge Graph? The more specific the query, the more specific the answer; Google is already getting better at delivering answers completely independent of the search results below them. You're delivered an answer; not a list of potential answer sources.

In other words, Google is becoming an "answer engine"; and that's exactly how Glass will function. Ask a question, get an answer – not a search result. Glass is not intended to "browse the web”; I don't think even Google envisions users sitting and swiping awkwardly at the air trying to find what they're looking for, and I don't think that’s how people will choose to use the tech.

When you've got a tiny screen, the onus is on you to make that experience as short, fast and easy as possible. Browsing the web like someone sitting in a desk chair? That ain't it.

As for Google+, while I'm sure that Google is hoping this tech will be one more catalyst for moving people on to the platform, the fact of the matter is that even if (and when) "Author Rank" comes into effect, the impact on Glass' ability to answer questions will likely remain limited.

Context & Relevance: The Keys That Unlock a Million Doors

Imagine Glass as an extension of a mobile phone – when do we ask questions and make demands of our mobile devices? Usually, the context is important: we're out and about on a mission, with needs more immediate than when we're sitting at a desk. Sometimes we want fast facts or directions, other times we want timely information like a translation, nearby hospital or weather forecast. Usually, we want information we can turn around and use immediately.

That Google can translate languages doesn't eliminate the fact that people in Germany want German results for localized queries; to assert that we’re headed towards a "Universal Google" misses the idea that regardless of the top-level domain, Google's goal is relevance.

What I believe Glass will eventually build is a contextual OS; the ability to detect and understand where you are, what you're doing and what you need to know to get it done. Some of that information we will feed Glass directly; some of it will be inferred, and some of it will come as a result of eavesdropping via GPS, e-mails, search history and past behavior (the future is weird and stalkerishly invasive).

We've seen glimpses of that with the "Flight Information" apps Google has created that show whether your flight is on time, what gate it's at and where to collect your luggage.

Search? Small Potatoes!

Maybe the more important point is that Google doesn’t see this as solely a search play, but a foray into something totally different. Look at how Google shows the tool being used on their own site:

  • A disabled woman using Glass to navigate in a car, take photos, shoot videos – and share them (Oh, and she asks Google a few questions about a felling axe and bears in the Cascades)
  • A firefighter using Glass to find fire hydrants, show floor plans, identify cut points in an extraction diagram and navigate to the scene of a fire.
  • A tennis player keeping track of to-dos, see flight times, have a hangout and take/share photos.
  • A teacher taking his class on a virtual field trip, sharing videos, photos and streaming live
  • A DJ identifying songs, sending messages, capturing photos

Context. Every single time.

And it’s in these videos that you see Glass’ full potential, not as a search engine tool, but as an answer-delivery tool that functions almost like a series of apps that bring you what you need in any-given situation.

In fact, there are apps you can download as well that expand the functions of Glass beyond what you might have immediately thought of, including apps for WordPress updates, controlling WeMo devices, measuring your distance from the golf pin, connecting with Meetup (the irony, considering their CEO is behind the “punch in the face” statement), getting top restaurants from Yelp!, finding great recipes and more.

In addition to Google’s quest to provide answers, not search results, apps may well be big players as they are custom-tailored for situations and scenarios – baked in context.

This is not traditional search. In fact, if Google has it their way, nothing you do outside of the regular, good ol’ SEO will have any impact on your ability to show up – because people have to go looking for you. You have to be the best answer in their immediate time of need; and with Hummingbird in tow, your data might just get sucked out of your website and displayed anyhow.

Relax - You’ve Got Plenty of Time

Let’s be frank – even if Google has released some less-hideous versions of Glass and developed solutions for those who wear prescription glasses, it’s going to take a whole lot more than some hot models and loud rock music for Google to turn the masses into millions of roaming Geordi Laforges.

It’s unlikely Google will be able to get the price below $500 for the scheduled 2014 release; something that will limit sales to only the rabid advocates and early-adopters. And it’s going to take a massive social shift for people to become okay with talking to their glasses and wearing a big “I’m not completely paying attention to you” on their face – even if we already do that with phones. That’s going to take more than a few years to come to fruition.

In other words – the world isn’t going to go “face-mobile” just yet, and you really shouldn’t be shifting your marketing strategy to accommodate for search functions on this niche tech. Search won’t work the same way on Glass; this hardware isn’t built for old-school, “type in a query” type searches – and that’s actually a whole lot more exciting.

Image credit: tedeytan via Flickr

Author: Joel Klettke
is a copywriter with a history in digital marketing. He runs Business Casual Copywriting, working with businesses and agencies who are more concerned about creating awesome things than they are about word counts. Follow Joel on Twitter at @JoelKlettke.