Yay, I got to launch the Guardian GoogleTV project that I've been tinkering with over the last few months. I've already written about it over on the Guardian Developers Blog and there's a more general overview on Inside Guardian so there's not much point repeating that here.
But I did want to tie it in with a couple of things bouncing around in my head, let's start with...
Every so often I have a mild panic attack on behalf of journalism in the face of speed of innovation elsewhere. Like now #sxswi — emily bell (@emilybell) March 12, 2012
And the Hacking is Important post from Michael, which I shall now quote extensively from...
'[Facebook is worried about] the growth paradox, which goes something like this: The end result of successful hacking is product, and that product needs to grow by building more things. The more you grow, the more things you have, and the more you need people whose job is simply to coordinate the increasingly interdependent building activities. These people, called managers, don’t create product, they create process. 'Hackers are allergic to process not because they don’t understand the value; they’re allergic to it because it violates their core values. These values are well documented in Zuckerberg’s letter: “Done is better than perfect”, “Code wins arguments”, and that “Hacker culture is extremely open and meritocratic”. The folks who create process care about control, and they use politics to shape that control and to influence communications, and if there is ever a sentence that would cause a hacker to stand up and throw his or her keyboard at the screen, it’s the first half of this one. 'The growth paradox is that the chaotic means by which you found success might become distasteful to those you hire to maintain and build on that success. Once they’ve established themselves, they will point at the hacking and ask important sounding questions like, “What is it they are building?” or “How does this poorly defined thing fit into our overall strategy?” They will label these hackers “disruptors” and they are 100% correct. 'Hacking is disruptive, and whether you code software, write books, or film movies, I believe bringing anything new into the world is a disruptive act. By being novel and compelling, the new is likely to replace something else and that something else isn’t being replaced without a fight.'
Fortunately the Guardian (as has facebook) found ways to work around the growth paradox. For the Guardian the growth in this case isn't your sudden start-up to internet infrastructure over 6 years growth, but the been-around-for-a-very-long-time growth.
The 1st way was to build the Guardian Open Platform & Content API. At a time when other news organisations are putting up paywalls, the Guardian sticks all its content into APIs for developers to build on and incorporate into tools.
The 2nd is to actually use its own Content API on a daily basis to quickly prototype projects, hold internal & external hack-days and then giving developers enough rope with which to hang themselves :)
Obviously I'm coming at this from the developer angle and this is a technology project rather than the journalism that's giving Emily mild panic attacks. Which is why we also have Open Journalism (and #OpenNews) and ways of linking these two together internally.
With those two prongs performing a pincer movement on "Open", along with the API and internal support for "hackers" we have a pretty good ecosystem for moving quickly(ish) on the digital. We don't have an R&D "lab" (unless it's very will hidden under Guardian Towers) but I'm slightly wary of shuffling off innovation into a separate unit anyway, it should just be core to business as normal. From which fertile ground sprung forth the GoogleTV project.
Back to the TV
Anyway, as mentioned in the Dev Blog post, this project started as a "what if?", in this case, "we're looking at desktop, tablets & mobile a lot, what if ConnectedTVs really start take off?"
There are just over 300 million people in the USA, and around 270 million TVs, there's actually more TVs per household than people (2.7 TVs vs 2.5 people). You couldn't move for ConnectedTVs at CES this year, although no-one can quite tell me exactly what a Connected TV is. In years past the invention of the radio was going to kill newspapers and then video was going to kill the radio, the internet in turn was set to finish off the television and all of them had it in for books. Instead what happened is that nothing really died but stole ideas and characteristics from the newer shiny toy. Books can now be ebooks with links to twitter, newspapers now have podcasts which are like the radio but on the internet, the internet has TV programs on it and the telly can now show webpages.
Clay Shirky in his book Cognative Surplus attempted to quantify "spare time", the premise being that we no longer work all our waking hours and have some time left over and that time is often spent sat infront of the television. A trillionly billionty hours, and if we did something with that "surplus" time great things could be achieved.
The measure he ended up with was this: if everyone spent just one advert break per week updating Wikipedia, we could have a new Wikipedias every few weeks. Admittedly they'd most likely be terrible, terrible Wikipedias but I think the point still stands. As much as some people claim that other people spend too long on the internet, as a society it's nothing compared to that spent infront of the TV.
"We can do a back-of-the-envelope calculation, for example, using Wikipedia, to see how far we still have to go. All the articles, edits, and arguments about articles and edits represent around 100 million hours of human labor. That’s a lot of time. But remember: Americans watch about 200 billion hours of TV every year." - Clay Shirky, Wired: Cognitive Surplus: The Great Spare-Time Revolution.
There's all sorts of things we could take away from this. But for me, at the moment it's this... people spend a fuck load of time infront of the TV.
And now, TV manufactures want people to interact with the TV, various brands have their own web browsers and services built in, Apple have their Apple TV "puck" that you can attach and Google have GoogleTV that comes either built in or as a unit you can plug in.
It seems reasonable that we (the Guardian) would want our news, and images and video and podcasts, on all those millions of devices.
One Million GoogleTVs
Of course it's still very early in the ConnectedTVs world, there's currently only around 1 million GoogleTVs out there in the wild, but then there aren't that many of the other breeds of "connected" TVs either, Apple has no browser on their puck, some gaming consoles have browsers but of different abilities and so on. But you have to start somewhere and if you want to quickly sketch out an idea then GoogleTV is a pretty good place to start.
It's basically Chrome with HTML5 and CSS3-ish, and that right there should tell you that you already have all the tools you need to knock something together that'll work on a TV.
Our plan was to quickly sketch out ideas, throw them onto the TV to see what worked and the big screen and what didn't. It also meant that we could iterate quickly and push changes as often as we liked, which is nice.
That all new TVs in a couple of years will have internet browsers and access is all but inevitable, and as they get into more and more homes you suddenly have a new audience, people who like to just sit down and be informed/entertained by the nice, bright, large screen in the corner (or mounted on the wall). And now seemed like a better time to start thinking about that than trying to play catchup later.
So this experiment isn't so much about the now but rather what may be in a couple of years time.
Well that and an excuse to buy a new big telly ;)