Apps Google Glass News, Digital media, Google, Google Glass, Media, Mobile phones, smartphones, Technology, Vice magazine — July 31, 2013 18:07 — 0 Comments
How Vice’s Tim Pool used Google Glass to cover Istanbul protests
Tim Pool has been using Glass for what he calls “mobile first-person” journalism and livestreaming coverage of recent protests in Istanbul, Cairo and Brazil
What is Google Glass good for, beyond showing off at technology conferences? Google’s augmented eyewear has plenty of sceptics, but here’s one scenario:
“When there’s a wall of police firing plastic bullets at you, and you’re running through a wall of tear-gas, having your hands free to cover your face, while saying ‘OK Glass, record a video’, makes that recording process a lot… easier,” says Tim Pool.
Pool has been using Glass for his livestreaming coverage of recent protests in Istanbul, Cairo and Brazil for Vice in 2013, but he’s been doing what he calls “mobile first-person” journalism since 2011, and the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York.
His livestreams attracted more than 750,000 unique viewers in a single day at the height of those protests, when police were clearing people out of their Occupy camp and trying to keep professional journalists away.
Now he’s finding audiences for his livestreams and videos through Vice’s online network.
“After two years covering politics, technology, hackers and conflict-y stuff, a lot of companies had been interested, but had said ‘we know what you do, we think it’s awesome, would you like to do something else?’,” says Pool.
“Vice were the first company to say ‘we know exactly what you do, we think it’s awesome, and we want you to do more of it.”
Pool’s first assignment for Vice had been due to be the G8 summit, and the likely protests around it. But then riots started in Istanbul, leading to a change of plan.
And two days before leaving for Turkey, Pool’s Glass arrived, after he’d been accepted for Google’s Glass Explorer early-adopters programme earlier in the year.
“As soon as I saw Google Glass, I realised that it would allow me to do what I always do with this first-person live recording, but my hands would be free,” he says.
“I don’t want to stand filming in front of the water cannon and guys with Molotovs. I want to show you what it’s like to be there as best I can, even if that ends with me running full-speed into a cafe and rubbing lemons all over my face after being tear-gassed.”
Not lost in translation
Before flying to Turkey, Pool tweaked his Glass to run Android apps, and sideloaded several onto the device, including Ustream to livestream video, a remote-control app to access his desktop computer at home, and a translation app that’s already come in handy for this Turkish non-speaker in Istanbul.
“I managed to buy a gas mask in a store through miming – ‘Police! Poom poom!’ [the sound of tear-gas being fired] – but when I paid for it, I just confused the shop-owner when trying to mime ‘receipt’. It was great being able to say ‘OK Glass, Google Translate ‘receipt’ to Turkish’,” says Pool.
“When I was in Brazil, though, I didn’t have a data connection at first, so I couldn’t communicate. It was very weird going from that to Turkey, where I could translate things and talk to somebody.”
Poor connectivity is currently a hazard of Pool’s job, especially when trying to livestream video. He carries several SIMs in order to switch operators when one drops out, but is optimistic about future improvements in network speed and reliability.
The results can be captivating and panic-inducing in equal measure when Pool has been caught up in the protests. “Some people have told me that it’s like journalism video-gaming: an open window into what’s going on,” he says.
“There’s no one standing in front of you: you’re looking through a window at this event. And with social media, people can chat with me while I’m broadcasting, and chat to one another, which is just as powerful.”
I was planning to ask Pool how quickly he thinks (if he does) that Glass and other wearable technologies will filter up to mainstream media journalists covering protests and conflict.
But even as I form the question, I wonder instead whether what’s more interesting is faster connectivity, livestreaming apps and wearable technology filtering down to more members of the public: the people who aren’t covering protests or conflicts, but who are living them.
“Both are important questions. What the mainstream journalists are using now works: the cameras are good, they’re high-quality high-definition… They’ve got a stable build, to put it in technology terms,” says Pool.
“I’m working on what you’d refer to as a nightly build, which is less stable. I’m testing the boundaries and trying to find the methodology and technology that works for this.”
The implication being that the more it proves itself, the more this technology is likely to find its way into the hands of other kinds of journalists.
Pool doesn’t come across as a new-vs-old media provocateur, either. He notes that several TV networks have already broadcast his streams, including Al Jazeera English and NBC, for example.
The potential of having somebody – or, indeed, many somebodies – on the ground filming during a protest isn’t a replacement for traditional journalists using their knowledge to explain what’s happening and why.
It should be complementary, and indeed, the skill of a news broadcast editor is increasingly in weaving these different forms of journalism together.
Pool is still an intriguingly disruptive influence, though, especially when he’s harnessing consumer gadgets for his own ends. Take Parrot’s AR Drone quadrocopter, a £300 remote-controlled flying device that I’d written off as a rich man’s toy.
In Pool’s hands, it became an “Occucopter”, capable of flying above protests and streaming footage (via a smartphone) to the world. “The idea is making this a mainstream cheap tool for people who want to be involved in media production,” he says.
“I’m trying to compress this news-room into a very low-cost methodology and technology for the average person, so they can be involved in the conversation. For a couple of hundred dollars, we can get an eye in the sky, down from tens of thousands of dollars.”
Pool thinks that from a viewing perspective, livestreams made sense immediately to younger people who’ve grown up with the idea of live video online, although he accepts that it was more startling for older audiences watching events like Occupy Wall Street on their TVs.
“The first day I livestreamed there, I had maybe 17 viewers. Two days later, there were 700, then within the first month I’d had more than 250,000 unique viewers. And then two days after that, 36,000 concurrent viewers and a total of 750,000 for the broadcast,” he says.
“Now, when news breaks I see the social media editors tweeting ‘does anybody have a livestream?’”
For now, Pool is focusing on his work for Vice – he was halfway to hacking conference DEF CON during this interview – which he says is the ideal employer for his kind of journalism.
“I did this on my own for a while, but as people in the industry tell me, breaking news isn’t a business model!” he says. The problem being how to sustain himself in between the big news events when he’s on the ground broadcasting.
“Those gaps are when I’m typically doing research and getting ready for the next event, which is where Vice are amazing,” he says.
“They do their thing producing the content and getting a regular audience. That fills the gaps, and as soon as I’m ready to go live, boom: it’s a platform.”
That’s why easy conclusions are best avoided when it comes to someone like Pool. He’s producing journalism that traditional journalists haven’t tended to do, but that’s why traditional broadcasters are interested in streaming his content.
His tools are available to anyone – smartphones, livestreaming apps and 3G networks, if not Google Glass yet – removing the need for a media gatekeeper, yet the backing of media company Vice is helping him find a sizeable audience.
Above all, he’s enthusiastic about the potential of new technologies to complement (again, not replace) our existing forms of newsgathering and distribution.
“It’s important just that the technology exists. You never know when you might become the most important journalist in the world,” says Pool.
He cites a recent shooting incident in a Wisconsin shopping mall where a teenage girl’s tweets became a primary source for journalists.
“Now imagine if she had a livestreaming app. That’s hopefully something awesome in our future,” he says. “People will have the ability to broadcast to the world if they have something to say, or are somewhere where something important is happening.”
That’s exactly where Pool hopes to keep popping up, whether it’s riots and protests, political conventions or trials – such as the conviction of Andrew ‘Weev’ Aurenheimer, who was sentenced to 41 months in jail for connecting to an unsecured AT&T database and sending a list of iPad subscribers to news site Gawker.
“For me, it’s not necessarily about politics, it’s about things I feel are going to have a big impact on how the world works,” says Pool.
“He [Aurenheimer] has been locked up for visiting what’s essentially a public website. If I see something like that which is going to make a huge impact, I want to be there.”
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