Shortly before Google Glass launched, Jonathan Blum wrote a column on the product in his Digital Skeptic column on TheStreet.com–and he was the first columnist to predict the demise of Glass (“The Digital Skeptic: Terms of Service Could Shatter Google Glass“). Blum interviewed me for the column and he concluded:
Here’s the investor kick in the eye: The legal risks are so certain that Castle wonders what are Google’s long-term goals.
“You have to ask, what is a company of Google’s size and scale doing taking a level of risk like this for an unproven technology?” Castle asked. “Google Glass will be a great day for the lawyers. But I see this as infinite exposure for a product that will not create infinite profit.”
“I just don’t understand what the thinking is,” he said.
You know Chris, neither do I.
Where Was the Board?
The New York Times tells us that Google has now shelved Glass (“A Retreat for Google Glass and a Case Study in the Perils of Making Hardware“). With the usual Googlely lack of introspection and Silicon Valley spin, the Google Glass blog spins it thusly:
We’re graduating from Google[x] labs
It’s hard to believe that Glass started as little more than a scuba mask attached to a laptop. We kept on it, and when it started to come together, we began the Glass Explorer Program as a kind of “open beta” to hear what people had to say.Explorers, we asked you to be pioneers, and you took what we started and went further than we ever could have dreamed: from the large hadron collider at CERN, to the hospital operating table; the grass of your backyard to the courts of Wimbledon; in fire stations, recording studios, kitchens, mountain tops and more.
The move signals a humbling retreat for Glass, the Internet-connected glasses that allow users to do things like snap pictures with a blink of an eye or send emails with their voice. A little more than two years ago, Glass was the star of Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, and a central piece of the company’s efforts to move deeper into selling hardware.
At that conference, I/O, Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, had a live video chat with a couple of wing-suited sky divers as they jumped out of a plane. Later that year, Time named Glass one of the best innovations of 2012. Some people called it fashion and others used it for art.
Today, Glass is more like a case study in the perils of developing hardware whose purpose isn’t clear.
You know–a graduation. Yes, a graduation. That’s the ticket.
The problem with Glass was extraordinarily predictable. It was creepy. It invaded privacy. It violated the last stronghold of mankind against “monetization”–private conversation. If someone had just pitched the idea, it wouldn’t have been necessary to blow God knows how many millions of the stockholders money to actually build it.
Not only is Glass an example of how hard it is to launch hardware, it’s really an example of how hard it is to launch hardware with a complete and total failure of management oversight and board oversight over management.
That’s right boys and girls–the question to ask is not where was the product, the question is where was the board?
Probably the same place the board was when Google made selling advertising for illegal drugs part of its business model.
Permissionless Innovation Meets The Real World
Glass is a prime example of a Google trope: permissionless innovation. How so?
“Permissionless innovation” was coined by Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet (for which I’m sure North Korea thanks him). Mr. Cerf is Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, Cryptocurrency Mystic and Trend Sherpa. (Actually, just Chief Internet Evangelist, I made up the other titles–but I caughtcha didn’t I?) He was also a frequent correspondent with coffee aficionado Andrew McLaughlin during Little Andrew’s White House Days. Mr. Cerf passes off “permissionless innovation” as a cornerstone of Internet culture–or as we call it around MTP, the Internet of Too Many of Other Peoples’ Things (or IoTMOPT).
The permissionless innovation scam works best when it’s hard to get caught ignoring other people’s property rights. Like for example, when Google scrapes your kids data when they visit YouTube, or your data when you use Google Fiber (at home or at Starbucks), or when Google points who knows how many users to the hundreds of millions of links to stolen content. All online, all in the dark of the Internet, all fooling innocent people into giving up their property or sending a weird looking car to take pictures of your house or snarf down your wifi.
With Google Glass, however, permissionless innovation could end badly for the innovator not seeking permission, not to mention the out and out voyeur. And yes, by “end badly”, I do mean something along the lines of a bouncer, a boyfriend or a Louisville Slugger. That’s not what happens online, you see. Online they get away with it. And as Guy Forsyth tells us, nothing says freedom like getting away with it.
In the real world, if you walk up to people you don’t know wearing Glass in a bar in Staten Island or some parts of downtown LA or just about anywhere in Texas, if you’re lucky you’ll be told to take that thing off. And if you don’t, you probably won’t get a chance to invoke Vint Cerf. But Mr. Cerf might find out that his trademark silk pocket square ain’t Celox.
And does anyone really believe that the Google board couldn’t see that haymaker coming when they approved pouring millions down the drain to keep Sergey happy?
I have to believe that Sergey Brin got a real rush trying to force this Glass version of permissionless innovation onto the public. But as a comedian once said, “I discovered that I could get the same rush from coke if I just shoved Comet up my nose and flushed my money down the toilet. And I couldn’t get busted.”
Well, Sergey, next time.