Apr 4, 2013

The Glass Explorers Need Your Help: Thoughts On Cyberbegging, Collaboration and Causes (BEDA 1)

Disclosure: I am an invited #IfIHadGlass Explorer and I am looking for help with a Glass-related project. Learn more here. This post is part of a larger project called Blog Every Day April, which began in 2009 with author Maureen Johnson. This April, I'm combining BEDA blogs with VEDA vlogs to create something every day. I hope you're inspired by this post to take part.


Look at Glass. A photomosaic was compiled by Jeff Thomas, combining all of the #IfIHadGlass invitees on Twitter.
Even before being invited to become a Google Glass Explorer, I saw folks asking for help online, both financial help to purchase the device/pay for their travel and creative help in developing their ideas. You can call the financial portion fundraising, sponsoring or even cyberbegging. Whatever you call it, Explorers are looking for financial contributions online to first make a purchase and then travel to San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York to pick up that purchase.


Typical reactions to these online appeals include passionate opposition. Fundraising for Glass-related ideas has become a polarizing topic. Of course, opposition is a fair stance. In part, the people who are fundraising, myself included, are looking for help paying for their Glass, but there's a lot more to it than that. However, I would caution some Glass Explorers by saying your invitation is not an excuse to spam public communities, promise incentives you can not deliver, or make false claims, etc.

During the wait between the close of #IfIHadGlass submissions and when the first invitations were sent, the buzz around Glass had was surrounded by a wealth of creativity. Submissions and use cases ranged from the futuristic to the charitable to the medical to the downright weird. Some even garnered national attention. Dr. Jenn Seiler has a plan to create an interface using Glass with her EEG headset to capture brain activity data while she participates in different activities, earning her a mention on PCmag.com. Other notable ideas filled lists by Gizmodo, Engadget, HuffPo, CNN and more. Truly, the chosen Explorers are possess the collective brainpower to change the world. So why, if they didn't have the $1,500+tax price tag, would they enter such a contest? These people surely knew they were submitting to win "a place in line" to buy the device, otherwise they wouldn't have entered, right?

Apparently not, as we first noticed once some winners were notified on Google+ and Twitter. Many did not read the terms of the hashtag contest. Now their dream of realizing their idea might occur later rather than sooner. For those people, the dream is essentially over before its begun.

Or is it?

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Imagine, for a moment, a time when connected technology was not as omnipresent as it is today. There were no public computers at libraries. There were no Internet cafes and no smartphones. Your home didn't have 2.5 personal computers. Much of the development of the world wide web and its applications did not exist. Roughly, think back to the early 1980's.

I'm not a computer or technology historian, but it doesn't take a historian to know that when computers and portable phones were the high-tech toys of solely the rich or well-connected, it meant slow development and testing. Personally, I can remember that the amount of time between our first family computer appearing in the living room to everyone on my street having one spanned about two years. That time period is shorter than the time between my father first seeing a computer in college and using one in his professional life more than a decade later.

Luckily, we live in an age where access to technology is relatively open, barring economic circumstances, and where development of applications for new technology is relatively quick. Some will argue it's to serve the market and not the consumer, but I would argue that both are accurate. If we as a society weren't so fascinated by having the most up-to-date devices, there wouldn't need to be such a supply for that demand.

Now imagine a long line of people. At the front of the line, are people who work at Google or at their associated partners and affiliates. Behind these employees are the developers who had the opportunity to sign up for a place in this line at last year's I/O, Google's developer conference. If you keep going down the line, you will next see a large portion of people who were invited into the line through #IfIHadGlass. That's where I'm standing. At the end of that line, there is a bit of space and another separate line. This is where a whole bunch of other people are waiting; let's call them "everyone else." These are the two lines to purchase Glass, whether for personal use, professional use or some combination of the two. In the first line, Glass costs $1,500+tax. In the second line, Glass reportedly costs "around the cost of current smartphones" or at least "significantly less" than the Explorer price.

This is the point where we, as Glass Explorers, are asked a few questions. Let's break them down one-by-one.

Q) Why are so many people willing to wait in line to pay more when they can wait in the other line and pay less?

The answer is simple: to be ahead of the others. It may seem like geek-bragging and the need to be seen with the newest fad gadget in the fastest time. I'm sure for some people it is. For me, and for a lot of the Glass Explorers I've spoken to, it means being ahead in opportunity. The opportunity to be a Glass Explorer is to be at the forefront of not just a new technology, but a developing industry.

Wearable technology has been in development for years, but has only recently reached the mainstream. We've come a long way from the clip on the back of your iPod Shuffle. There's already a watch that receives your phone's notifications via Bluetooth. There's also a wristband that calculates the calories you burn during physical activities and a sensor that it fits inside your running shoe so you can track your distance. Wearable technology isn't about fads-- it's about making the accessories and items we wear "smarter" just like our phones became smart a few years ago.

Q) Isn't that why the developers are ahead of you? Aren't they the people that will lead the charge for this new technology?

Yes, developers are already working on applications and services for Glass. Some have already attended hack-a-thons at Google. However, these developers also need the help of designers, beta testers and financial backing to get their concepts off the ground.

What you might not know is that many of the Glass Explorers chosen in #IfIHadGlass (you know, those people behind them in line) are also developers. There's also doctors, educators, and community organizers, journalists, parents, armed servicemen and women and more waiting in that line.

Q) Why should I help a Glass Explorer? Aren't the rest of you just fanboys or geeks who need to have something before everyone else?

I'm sure some are. Hopefully the price and travel necessary to be a Glass Explorer will weed out some of the people that only want Glass so they can have the newest gadget and be a show-off. The rest of us, however, are regular people with ideas on how we might all benefit from this new device and platform.
They're closer than you think. This map, crowdsourced by Foster McLaughlin, shows regions with the most Explorers.
To answer this question, I asked some Glass Explorers and enthusiasts on Google+ why they thought it was important to contribute, financially or otherwise, to Glass projects. Here are some of the responses I received:
It's important to get Glass in the hands of many types of people. Having only a perspective of developers is not helpful in the development of a new product.  - Michael Evans, 24, Software Engineer & I/O Explorer, Washington D.C.
It's important for people to contribute in some way to a Glass Explorer project if and only if that Project intersects directly with something that is important to the contributor. If my project doesn't have a "grab" with the donor, I don't expect that person to feel any urgency or importance in supporting my project, and I don't take that personally. - Imei Hsu, Therapist/RN/Artist and Glass Explorer, Seattle, WA
This is a technology that can revolutionize so many things we do in the world... We kind of have an obligation to push this technology and its abilities to anyone we can. - Joshua Behringer, 30, Computer/Technician & Glass Explorer, Kansas City, MO
[As responses continue to come in, I'll update this post with them.] 
The #IfIHadGlass competition posed one question: what would you do with Glass? The entries that were selected based on criteria such as originality and creativity. It's the use cases of the average person as much as the celebrity or developer that matter to Google. Everyone has ideas for Glass' potential. It's just a matter of finding someone whose idea you would like to help with.

Think of it this way. There are about 10,000 people right now who have an idea for Glass and will get the device before the general public. I would wager that at least 10% of those people work in a purely computer, web or IT-related industry and have access to funding (personally or professionally), creative input, and other developer input. I'd also wager that at least 10% of those people not in a computer-related industry need financial help to make their idea reality (to purchase, to travel, to start a website-- whatever). If my wager is accurate, that means that 900 people need your financial help right now.

These 900 people have an opportunity. Whether its to change the world or change their own lives is their prerogative. Your choice, however, is to become a venture capitalist of sorts to one or more of these Glass Explorers. Whether or not you think their idea is compelling enough of that you find it interesting is your personal opinion. In fact, you might think right now that there isn't someone you're willing to help pay for their Glass Explorer project. I'm willing to bet you're wrong.

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This is where the debate on fundraising begins. It's the same reason we see commercials for the ASPCA on television or get phone calls from the local VFW. Those 900 Glass Explorers can't do it on their own. They need help. However, financial help isn't the only kind of help Glass Explorers are trying to find.

When you believe strongly in a charitable cause but aren't able to donate your dollars to help them, what can you do instead? In order to get their campaign in front of the right people, you can share their it with people you know. You could also volunteer to help them or donate your time in some way. Put simply, if you're not able (or willing) to give money to a cause, there are other ways to help. There always have been and there always will be.

Before you start screaming at me, I'm not saying that the American Cancer Society and the guy asking for money to buy a computer for his face are the same thing. Not even close. What I am saying is that no one person or one organization or one team can do everything on their own. Ideas need developers, designers, writers, users, customers, helpers, volunteers and financial backers to become reality. Any contribution, whether it's time, advice, word of mouth, or financial, is welcome.

This my challenge to you. I understand if you don't want to give money you earned to someone who doesn't have a physical, shippable incentive to give back to you. Please remember that money is all they that they need, nor could it even be one of their needs. I challenge you to find a Glass Explorer project, whether you are an Explorer or not, that you are interested in. Find a way to contribute to that project and help make it real. Instead of giving them money, maybe you could help them ally with a sponsor or business that is related to their idea (I'm in the midst of doing this myself) or put them in touch with the right professionals they will need to work with. If Glass projects aren't your thing, find a non-profit to volunteer or give to. Find an organization you believe in. Find a project that gets you pumped. I'm challenging you to do something, because we all should. Doing something is always better than complaining about things. Change comes with action.

If you really can't find a Glass project you want to help (even with the hundreds if not thousands of folks all over Google+, Indiegogo, and the Internet that are looking for help), start one. Find a Glass Explorer and collaborate them with an idea you have. Maybe they will like it better than their own idea. Maybe you can combine ideas. Stranger things have happened. Like I said, there are 10,000 people waiting in line right now. And that line moves first.