Perhaps the mark of genius lies not in the invention of the unexpected as in the mastery of the obvious. Google has redefined the way that we think about communication and information, creating a culture that demands complexity and exhaustive research in the fastest form possible. With a foray into television, Google is attempting to find the boundary between two mediums — television and the internet — and erase it completely. What will ultimately result from this combination is not yet known, although that’s part of the marketing appeal. “We haven’t been this excited about TV since Saturday morning cartoons!” declares Google TV’s official website.
As I write this, coming back from The Engadget Show at The Times Center in NYC (where they discussed the new Google TV device), I am once again blown away by what I know is a huge step into the future. The future of not only how we use media but how it will change the way we designers and marketers create it. One cool moment at The Engadget Show was when they showed the live video on Google TV of The Engadget Show being filmed. Of course, there was lag time but cool nonetheless. One important note here: although Google TV is very cool and definitely part of our future, don’t expect people to embrace it right away because a set top box is set to sell for $350.00, and if you want the Skype video conferencing experience, the camera will set you back another $150. According to the Engadget team, it took an expert a half hour to connect the device to their cable box and TV (for us lay people that translates to probably an hour or more). It will also take some time for companies to optimize their websites for Google TV as well. However, if you are in the market for buying a new TV you can get a Sony TV with Google TV built in. Otherwise, I’d say wait a while.
Television has long been ridiculed for its linear, formal nature, and television providers have long been accused of bundling the few intriguing and creative TV shows with stagnant pixel slop. The glaring quality missing in television, at least until about the late 1990s, was choice. With a few notable exceptions, it wasn’t until premium cable channels began to create programming for programming’s sake that television began to change as a medium. The rest of the television industry moaned that this focus on quality was limited to channels who could ‘afford it’; i.e., the ones that charged for their services, and did not simply accept spare nickels from a passive subscriber network.
The wide popularity of the internet pulled the rug out from under the old infrastructural distribution models in practically every industry. It was no longer enough to simply build walls around the product and charge people for entry. In the internet age, content rapidly became defined by both its quality and its popularity, not by its provider. So what kind of impact will Google, the ubiquitous search engine turned multimedia Goliath that simply gave the people what they wanted as fast as they wanted it, have on television?
The most obvious change for television is the increased level of interactivity and power. Google TV offers viewers the ability to effortlessly glide between moving images and static ones, allowing them to research the entire history of a television show without ever leaving the screen. This seamless integration of information browsing and passive viewing elevates a previously intellectually barren activity into a mesmerizing and fully engaging experience. Google TV is the splendid, 3D visualization of multi-tasking.
For websites, Google TV has the potential to revamp the slowly solidifying template of web design — in this case, a static navigation bar with an interactive but distinctly separate video or animation cordoned off to the side — with constantly evolving content and display. Websites finally graduate from being mere portals to being experiences in of themselves. ‘Fonts’ can potentially change from being static text cut-outs to fully emotive designs, shifting shape, color, and size to suit the tone of the website. The best way to imagine this new vivacity in fonts is to see Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which features a litany of different font faces that introduce different segments of the movie, which correspondingly mesh together rapidly to form a mood entirely of their own making.
Imagine a website which, instead of presenting a recognizable physical template, is identified purely by its ‘tone,’ not its look. Navigating it is more like walking through a building than paging through a book. Content constantly changes, due not only to the ‘designers’ of the website, but in accordance with the type of visitors and the information trails they leave behind (i.e., analytics for marketers). Rooms you once visited are now either off limits (because it is deemed unsafe for the viewer, i.e., children) or undergoing restoration (being modified to suit your needs), while new wings are opening up in every direction. Websites are no longer a display that helps you find what you’re looking for; the website itself IS what you are looking for, interpreting your needs by the moment.
This emphasis on movement is perhaps the most prominent characteristic of Google TV. Nothing stays still. By mixing two mediums, which have been known to be guilty of staying safe instead of embracing creativity, Google is taking the most captivating aspects of both mediums and boldly taking us into more creative waters. How this will impact commerce is unknown, but now that people have accepted the internet as a viable medium, it doesn’t seem like it will be that difficult to generate a substantial profit from what promises to be an entirely new experience. The bigger question here is which media networks will embrace and capitalize this change rapidly, for it will be these networks that will dominate the changing medium. In fact, I just read that the major media networks are already blocking content from Google TV. Do we have to take a look back at the profit margin lost by Universal Music for not embracing the change from CDs to mp3s? A word of advice to the networks — embrace the change or fall behind rapidly!
All of this brings us back to the idea of genius, and the mastery of the obvious. For the past two decades, the world has been undergoing a significant period of transition. Old models have fallen in favor of new innovations. In an era where everything from the record industry to the government has had to adapt to an entirely new way of doing things, traditional communication methods have also had to respond accordingly. The question remains: if you mesh two 2D mediums, do you end up with something in 4D? Stay tuned.
If you’d like to see a replay of the Engadget Show go to: http://www.engadget.com/2010/10/23/the-engadget-show-live-with-microsofts-aaron-woodman-windows/
If you’re interested in learning about how to optimize websites for TV go here: http://code.google.com/tv/web/