Feb 26, 2013

Notes on The Last Few Days: It's Been A Bit Overwhelming

It started with a video.

Then a thought process. 

Then a blogpost.

And now it's becoming a full-blown obsession.


The last few days have been amazing overwhelming awe-inspiring squeeful and as my Tumblr friends would say /FEELS. After I submitted my Glass Explorer application I wrote a blogpost on my process and pushed it to my networks. Little did I know the big G was watching. :-) 

Not only did the Glass team see my posts, but the following morning the Communications Director for Glass +Courtney Hohne reposted it to her networks. I was so thrown by this show of support for a nobody like me. It made me wish that the Glass team themselves were choosing the invitees for the Explorer program and not an independent jury. Alas, such is life.

As if the day couldn't get any better, one of my friends who works as a technical sourcer at Google, +Claire Watkins, read my post and invited me to Google's New York office for a chat.

In the spirit of full disclosure: I've never worked for Google nor have I ever been to their office, despite my having worked on 111 Eighth Avenue's 15th floor at Livestream. Claire and I are acquainted through a mutual fandom friend and are not related nor do we live together (no matter how awesome that would be). For many years, this friend spoke of Claire, who runs RupertGrint.net, as one of her closest fandom friends, but we only met a couple of years ago. Having run my own fansite and podcast for a short time, I had heard of Claire through other friends at MuggleNet, the world's leading source for Potter-related news. I now consider Claire a friend and fandom colleague.

Back to my story. Claire took me (and my large ridiculous suitcase I had to carry because I was on my way to travel by bus to New Jersey) through a quick tour of the Google offices. Keep in mind I worked in this building for almost two years and never set foot on Google soil, so I was a bit excited. The conference rooms are lush and the cafeteria is gorgeous. Lunch hour was already over, so we grabbed a few drinks and chatted on the veranda.

It was nice to talk about Glass with someone at Google who is as much in the dark as we all are. We talked about my blog, my ideas for a community of Glass Explorers and meetups in New York, and she wished she could apply to be an Explorer herself (unfortunately Google employees and contractors are not eligible). She joked that she once saw some Glass team members and begged to take a photo with them, but they declined for obvious reasons.

As someone who has always admired Google's innovation and their forward-thinking treatment of the user-creator relationship, it was so nice to walk the halls and quickly realize that this company is a lot like other big companies. In fact, walking the long corridors between departments reminded me of my days working at Walt Disney World. 

There was so much secrecy shrouded around the "magic" behind the Magic Kingdom (where I started on the property in 2003), but when you finally saw behind the curtain (or in this case "in the tunnel") you realized that companies are made up of real people working together to make magic. The cafeteria is there. The guide maps tell you which direction to what department. The custodial and security teams are sharing laughs during a quick coffee break. Things are usually just run-of-the-mill on a day to day basis. What is exciting however is the knowledge that somewhere in the building, someone is putting on a Cinderella wig preparing to change a little girl's entire world. In this case, I could imagine a Googler working on the Mirror API or debating color names for future models.

Later that same day, +Sarah Price, Community Advocate for Glass, also showed her support for blogpost and my application. Today, a community of Glass Explorers, developers, pioneers, and would-be Explorers are all showing their support & excitement about ideas I had. It's nice to be appreciated, especially after months of full-time job searching and thankless freelance work. 

There's been a few articles I recently read that I want to shed some light on as well. Chris Davies over at Slashgear recently connected Google Now and Glass much like my post, saying both "are still young, but there’s a lot about the future of Android that rests upon their reception and development." Davies nailed it. I wouldn't be surprised if Glass' success meant more collaboration between the two teams. 

Another story at Engadget, which was posted before the now infamous UI footage I'm calling "the 'OK glass' heard 'round the world", speaks to the rumor that Google retail stores will open this holiday season. For me, this was an eventuality, a "when not if" situation. You can be sure it didn't take the Windows 8 store in Times Square for me to realize that Google would be launching brick & mortar loactions by 2013's end.

I want to mention lastly how amazing it's been to connect via G+ with not only supporters of my own ideas, but also with the folks who've had hands-on real-world experiences with this wearable tech I think can change the lives of so many fans out there. Hopefully I'll get my Glass invite, make my pre-order, and attend my Explorer event in the weeks and months to come, but until then, it's been so nice to meet you all and discuss where we think Glass can go. The possibilities really are endless.

More to come, so stay tuned.

Feb 24, 2013

Applying to Be A Glass Explorer: The Step-by-Step Process I Took Making My Google Glass Beta Tester Submission

Last year, Google revealed two game-changing pieces of tech: Google Glass and Google Now. Like everyone else I was pretty amazed by both. If you haven't seen either of these, watch the following videos before reading on (both from the folks at Google):
After seeing one video, and then only a couple of months later the next, I knew that Google was leading innovation for the future the way I want to see it. But even more so I knew that there would be incredible applications for everyday consumers, and more importantly, for total fangirls like me.

Let me start by saying that if you know me personally, you already know I consume more media than most, get easily obsessed with it, and have been providing my own perspective/commentary on the world of pop culture since 2007 via social media and fan forums. But for those of you who don't know me, I'm what Tyler Oakley, or pretty much anyone on Tumblr, calls a "professional fangirl." It started as an all-consuming love for The Boy Who Lived (that's Harry Potter to you non-nerds) and his story, and extended into years of travelling, lifelong friendships, career opportunities and the ability to create lasting memories for others. In short, I went from your typical everyday fan to a superfan helping to plan a Potter convention in just a few years.

The innovation of Google Glass and Google Now were so important to me is that I've always felt technology should be seamless. That said, the minute I could own a device that supported Google Now I ran to my local Sprint retailer and got one, only then to wait for my operating system to update. In just the first day of using Google Now, I avoided taking a particular bus due to a delay, was reminded of a friend's birthday, and did a quick Google search on a company I was working with at the time. This wasn't what made Google Now a killer app for me though. That came when I started applying it to my life as a fan.

In a typical day I consume 4+ hours of media, be it blogs, articles, tv shows, movies, music or books. Social media has made it easy to comment, share thoughts, and review what I consume, but Google Now made me feel more up-to-date than ever. Suddenly I know if the teams my family likes are winning, which actor had been nominated for what role as awards season drew nearer, and I can quickly plan conference and fan event trips in a single swipe. Best of all, the wealth of knowledge that could be googled instantly to settle an argument (mostly about Star Wars, obviously) has changed life as a fan dramatically. 

After watching the first Google Glass concept video (above) my immediate thoughts were on how it could change my fan life. I quickly imagined being able to snap photos in the middle of a concert, grab video of meeting a celebrity, and navigating conference cities without the need of tablet and phone screens. Luckily, Google Now was the start of making things more seamless as a fan and that came at the tail end of 2012. I was sure Google Glass was a pipe dream for someone with a very limited budget like me. Obviously it wouldn't be available for a few years anyway.

This brings us to last week. After waking up I check my social feeds and saw a friend has posted about becoming a Glass beta tester. Moreover I found #ifihadglass was trending globally. I was sure people were just talking about how they would use it, until I saw this link which lead me to this video:
Glass has become reality. This is real footage, not a concept and not a work of fiction. We as consumers now have an opportunity to beta test what could change the way we use tech in our lives. After reading the rules, terms and FAQ, I was on board. But how would I make my application stand out?

Like with so many other things, this past week I have depended on my amazing community to help me plan my submission for the Google Glass Explorer program. I knew I was going to use a powerful montage of clips from life as a fan, but I wanted to know how my friends would use Glass to change fan experiences. Conversations across all of my social nets quickly turned to topics like second-screen apps, internet piracy, and food blogging as we started sharing how we would use the device to capture all of these amazing moments and navigate our world better.

Then my good friend Jon Rosenthal who runs the NY Harry Potter fan meetup group said I should aim for the group experience. Truly, this is what being a fan is all about. Of course, we do all experience fandom differently, but my life as a fan has always been about social events, travel, news, and sharing with a community of like-minded nerds. 

How could I apply this to my submision? Last week I was visiting with two of my closest friends (both of whom I met through fandom) and we discussed at length what someone in my position could do to create an enhanced fan experience using wearable tech. Wouldn't it be amazing to give fans who weren't as lucky as us the opportunity to see the convention experience firsthand? What if when I attend  two (or more) cons this summer I could wear Glass and allow a community to vote or choose what programs I attend? The result would be amazing. 

Not only does this present an opportunity for viewers or followers of my social accounts access to a first-person POV via photo, video and Google Hangout, but it also breaks something I consider a personal boundary. Conventions and conferences have become the norm for me. Each summer I visit a new city and spend time with friends, exploring and dancing and meeting up. However, in recent years I've stepped back from attending formal programming (roundtables, meetups, workshops) and preferred spending time with my small circle of close friends. If I gave an online community the opportunity to choose where I went, who I spoke with, and what programs I attended (heck, even what tourist sights I went to see) it would change the way I experienced these events and the cities they took place in. I was definitely on to something.

Several drafts and arguments on sentence structure later, we came up with this as a start to my 50-words-or-less summary:
If I had Glass, I'd be thrown out of my comfort zone by allowing my online community to decide where I go and what I do at conventions. This choose-your-own-adventure experience would change the way I interact with my fandom.
But that was only part of the task. How would my 15-seconds-or-less montage be compelling or present enough usefulness that Google's jury would choose me?

For me, the next task was simple. Find 15 seconds worth of video (and maybe one compelling photograph) to illustrate what it might be like to use Glass as a fan. I've been known to document a fandom event or two, so there wasn't a lack of footage. 

For the icing, I wanted to find one lasting first-person image that meant fandom to me. I had plenty of pictures from when my friends and I had seen JK Rowling read in 2007. We had camped out, stood in line and somehow got in to her reading after a long-sleepless night waiting outside of Carnegie Hall. A picture of a signed book wasn't enough, and worse I could be disqualified for intellectual property violation.

Combing through my Instant Uploads on Google+ I found it. The perfect image:
Yes, this was not my first time meeting JK Rowling (or as fans affectioantely call her "Jo"). When we heard she would be signing her new book "The Casual Vacancy" at Lincoln Center last year, the question became not how we would get in, but what time we would start camping out, where we would have to set up, etc. There was nothing to stop us, including an online box-office snafu which caused the theatre to oversell and subsequently meant the event moving to a larger auditorium. 

That night was memorable for so many reasons, but mostly because it was Rowling's only US public event for her first adult book. We knew we couldn't take photos with her, but taking photos of her signing was permitted. This snpashot represents the ultimate fan experience. To the non Potter fans at home, think about that one piece of music, that one story, that one athlete that changed your life in a moment or with a word. Now imagine meeting and speaking to that person. To me, that's a memory that lasts a lifetime.

After choosing that, I tweaked my submission's wording and (after seeing a +1 by the Project Glass team themselves) decided to apply only via Google+. Here it is, my application and video paired with the photo above:
#IfIHadGlass I'd allow my online community to decide where I go and what I do at conventions. Taking me out of my comfort zone would create a choose-your-own-adventure life and moments like these would be less about finding my camera and more about capturing lifelong memories. 

Here is a description of the clips I chose and why:

1) Having just purchased Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on release night in July 2007, we walked out of Barnes & Noble in Union Square and were greeted by this sea of several thousands of people waiting to get their books. I've never been to San Diego Comic Con, but I imagine it is something like this, except all the time. Up until that point, I had never experienced being in a crowd that big, especially a crowd of Potter fans.

2) Meeting a fandom friend in real life for the first time is incredibly special. There are countless moments like this caught on video, with much waving, hugging, smiles and tears. After a problematic trip from Chicago's O'Hare Airport to the Hilton Chicago Hotel (something I could probably have avoided wearing Glass), I entered the hotel and Terminus 2008 to find my friends Sasha (from Wisconsin) and Lily (from England). This was my first time meeting them both and all the stress of travel melted away as they welcomed me.

3) While in Toronto for Prophecy 2007, I attended only my third (but by that point the biggest)) wizard rock concert ever. Like so many others, I made sure to capture a collaboration of two of my favorite bands performing on stage: The Remus Lupins and Harry and the Potters. There would be many more moments that week, but I can't forget being surrounded by everyone singing along to the songs that had been the soundtrack of my summer.

4) One of the promises I made to myself when I realized Azkatraz 2009 would be in San Francisco was to see the Full House house. Laugh if you will, but I combed that conference hotel for friends and rallied a group together so a childhood dream of mine would finally be realized. We took photos and laughed, but we knew what we really came for: a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something super fan-tastic. Turning the camera on the group, we sang the Full House theme right then and there.

5) [spoiler alert] Our fandom has always had a flair for the dramatic. In the summer of 2007, at the height of what would be known as "the summer of Potter," cosplay was becoming a well-known artform. Seen here are a few enthusiasts reenacting that infamous scene from Deathly Hallows after Harry's "death." These impromptu performances have since become commonplace, but never cease to delight fans wherever they occur.

6) I caught this tender moment in the Hilton Chicago ballroom. We had spent most of the day jumping, dancing and being the crazies that we are at a day-long wizard rock festival. Not every concert lasts forever, so at each show we take a moment to go arm-in-arm during the now-legendary last song that ends with the lyrics "the weapon we have is love." Almost every Harry and the Potters concert ends this way, a tradition that I hope will continue.

7) [is there any more magical number?] In a community like this, you get to know people, but there are some you always look up to, even after the transition from stranger to friend. As the founder of the Harry Potter Alliance, Andrew Slack has taken fandom a step further. He inspires young people to become social activists using the concept of a "Dumbledore's Army for the real world" with other fandoms recently being utilized in tandem with Potter. This clip was my first time meeting Andrew who later became a colleague and is now a dear friend. His work is an example of what one can achieve through imagination and belief in the impossible.

So thank you all for your feedback, help, counsel and for dealing with the tech-obsessed fangirl through another obsession. If selected to be a Glass Explorer, I will be borrowing/raising/begging for the $1,500 price tag money to fulfill my "choose-you-own-adventure" dreams. Of course, I'll also document everything along the way. I hope I've inspired those of you who haven't yet applied to do so. I don't want to be the only nerd wearing these and Google's independent jury is choosing 8,000 invitees nationwide, so get going. You can submit via Google+ or Twitter as long as you follow the rules and accept the terms

Now, I wait. Wish me luck!