07
Oct 16

What Will Product Management Be Like In 5 Years?

The future is hard to tease out, but here's what will happen in product management's future. (CC 2.0 by PunkToad)

The future is hard to tease out, but here’s what will happen in product management’s future. (CC 2.0 by PunkToad)

Earlier this year Janna Bastow of ProdPad put out a call for opinions on the future of product management. I quickly responded then. And realized later it would also make a good blog post.

To understand the future of product management I started from the “present” of product management. Where are we now in the product management discipline?

The “Present” of Product Management

Product management today has these characteristics:

Where (I hope) product management will be in five years

  1. Product management will be understood to be more about finding market problems and solving them than about “product” per se.
  2. Businesses will understand that the activities and effectiveness of product management are the primary leverage the business has on revenue and profits. Small improvements in PM effectiveness have outsize effects on the top and bottom lines.
  3. The business value of PM – i.e., revenue per PM – will be well known and (somewhat) managed to.
  4. Product managers take strong control of their part of go-to-market.
  5. We will have escaped from the fetters of the old inherited IT lexicon.

Three things you can do

  1. Make sure you’re spending enough time on the most valuable product management activity – finding and validating market problems.
  2. Understand where you and your company are in terms of finance-related product management ratios.
  3. Think about the literal and connotative meanings of the words you use – requirements, features, roadmaps, applications, agile. Make sure you understand not only what you mean by them, but what others hear when you say them. And if those aren’t aligned, change what you say.

03
Jul 13

A Sad Milestone In Technology’s History

I was saddened today to hear that Doug Engelbart had died. We all owe him a great debt – he had the vision of what computers could become decades before it became obvious to the Jobses and Thiels and Gateses, much less the rest of us, and did a tremendous amount of the work to make what we do today on a day-to-day basis possible. In his brief remembrance, The Death of Computing Pioneer Doug Engelbart | MIT Technology Review, Brian Bergstein says:

…what really got the soft-spoken Engelbart to light up was the idea that computing could elevate mankind by making it possible for people to collaborate from afar. He had articulated this vision since the 1950s and built key technologies for collaboration in the 1960s. Later he saw these ideas become tangible for everyday people with the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, but still in the 2000s he was hoping to see computing’s promise fully realized, with the boosting of our “collective IQ.” Of course in that grand sweep, the mouse was just one small tool.

Everyone is familiar with Engelbart’s “Mother of All Demos” – which is amazing, of course – but he continued his work on human augmentation nearly up to his death. I particularly remember a talk he gave at the 2004 Accelerating Change Conference at Stanford, which I heard as a podcast via IT Conversations. The first Accelerating Change Conferences were organized by Ray Kurzweil, before he became a household name in is own right, and it seemed fitting to me that Engelbart, the inventor of so much we take for granted today, was still on the front lines of what we might be doing in the future.

Link: The Death of Computing Pioneer Doug Engelbart | MIT Technology Review


16
May 13

Create A Compelling Product Vision By Writing The (Amazon) Review First

One aphorism about creating great products is “write the datasheet first.” This is kind of a lean startup concept – write the datasheet and see if anyone likes it well enough to call you up and try to buy the product. It’s a kind of minimum viable product.

But I also like to take the opposite approach, and imagine “what if?” This actually works whether you are planning to build a product, or looking to buy one. “What if my product were out there and it was really successful – what would people be saying about it, why would they have bought it, and what kind of value would they be getting?” Or, “If I found the ultimate solution to my problem in the market, how would I be thinking about it, what would it be doing for me, and what might I tell other people about it?”

The obvious way to capture these ideas is in the form of Amazon reviews (five star, of course).

So, since I’ve been thinking about product management tools lately, from *both* perspectives – builder and, more recently, buyer – I thought I’d share some of these Amazon reviews. I emphasize, in case it wasn’t clear, these are made up – they are me imagining “what if?”. So here are some of those great five-star Amazon reviews for the product of my product manager dreams – ProductManagerPro.

  • ProductManagerPro Gives Me Analytical Backup For My Decisions

    By A Solo Product Manager

    “Using ProductManagerPro, I was able to start making much better product decisions, and then to make sure that my decisions were being properly carried out. Before I had ProductManagerPro, it’s true that I made those product decisions to the best of my ability, but I was never able to justify my decisions on anything beyond my strong (albeit well-educated) gut feeling. Having ProductManagerPro to back me up on these decisions has given me a lot more credibility within the organization, and has given me a lot more confidence that I’m doing the right thing. Add to that that I can now track how those decisions are progressing through my product development process, and I’m a very happy camper!”

  • ProductManagerPro Enables My Team To Do A Better Job and Keeps Everyone Aligned With The Product Vision

    by A Manager Of Dozens

    “I have a staff of tens of product managers and almost 100 developers. When my organization decided to go with ProductManagerPro I had my doubts – another management tool that, if we spent a lot of time on it, all overhead, my managers might get some useful information, but it wouldn’t help me at all. Well, those doubts were cleared up in the first few weeks when I found I was finally able to see what really was going on in my organization. ProductManagerPro’s information is at the sweet spot between high level strategy and low-level user story development, and allows me to see how the work my team is actually doing – whether it’s development or product planning – relates to the high level goals of the department and even the company as a whole, and not only whether we’re on track against those goals, but whether we’re aligned with them over time.”

  • The Developers On Our Team Love It!

    by A Die-Hard Agilist

    “As a developer, I thought ProductManagerPro was really not for me. I’m all for my product managers having a better tool than Word or Excel, and in fact I knew that automating some of what they were doing could help me out. But ProductManagerPro has surpassed my expectations. It turns out that it hasn’t added overhead to my process (thanks to the integration with our IDEs, I can get my tasks provisioned right within my development environment), but it’s given me a lot more information about what I’m working on and why. Sometimes people think us developers just want to be told what to do and then be left alone, but I find it very motivating to be able to see why I’m working on a particular little item, and in fact I think that knowledge helps me do a better job, because I understand a lot better how this function will be used, what other capabilities it integrates with, and how it relates to the overall goals of the company and the users using our product. In fact, because of ProductManagerPro’s great collaboration abilities, I’ve also been able to make suggestions to our product managers for enhancements or improvements to functions I’m working on, which they have agreed to, and which I know have been popular with some customers! And this could not have happened nearly as easily without  in the picture.”

  • It Helps Me Be A Better Product Manager, Right Out Of The Gate

    by A Newbie

    “I am a new product manager, having transitioned from an engineering role, and I found at ProductManagerPro really helped me make that transition in my organization. They had configured the system in a really good way so that I knew exactly what information I need to provide, in what format, so that me and my colleagues could make good decisions, and so that my old colleagues – the developers – could get the most value from the system. This ability to configure the system to match our business processes made a really big difference to how quickly I was able to ramp up, and also it kind of gave me – and I think the rest of the team – some ‘secret sauce’ for doing a better job.”

  • Enables Us To Automate The Only Business Process That Creates Money

    by A Numbers Guy and Executive

    “My company realized a few years ago that now that we’d implemented ERP and CRM, the only real competitive leverage we had left to automate was our product planning and development process itself. Of course, this is obviously the hardest thing to automate, but it also gives the most leverage, because a successful new product can really change the landscape for a business. So I started researching solutions for improving our product management process – about 100 product managers working with about 250 products and product modules and 1,500 developers. A lot of the solutions were clearly just toys when confronted with the scale of our operation. But ProductManagerPro was architected to address the kinds of problems a company like mine faces in the product planning and product management process.

    We’re now one year into the implementation of ProductManagerPro and we’re seeing lots of improvements in various areas, although we’ve still got a long way to go. Just getting our requirements into a central system of record – in a scalable way as ProductManagerPro allows us to do – has been huge. It’s turned our product planning process into an enterprise asset, whereas before, when requirements were scattered across various “systems” – mostly Word documents and Excel spreadsheets – there was no way to consider them an asset. And the visibility that ProductManagerPro has given our executives, from product VPs to C-level execs, has resulted not only in our ability to catch problems while they are still imminent, rather than emergent, and has also given the top execs a lot more confident that the product teams are aligned with the corporate goals and objectives. That in itself has made the company a much more pleasant place to work!”

Do You Have Tricks For Creating A Product Vision?

What techniques do you use for helping create a compelling product vision? Have you tried writing a review of your (future) product from the perspective of your ideal customer?

Also, if you’re a product manager or a development manager, don’t you just wish someone really would give us this ProductManagerPro package?


11
Jul 12

Concrete Steps To Rescue Education in The U.S., From Roger Schank

I was talking with someone about education and its problems earlier this week, and I realized I had several old blog posts that were apropos. I thought I’d run them again as the start of a new series on education. This first one is from about a year ago, when I first discovered Roger Schank and his efforts to improve education.

Just discovered this blog by Roger Schank – he’s a former professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and a few other schools, now retired. I suggest taking a quick look if you want to get mad fast about the state of education in America, especially if you have doubts about “testing our way to quality.” (Anyone in software should know that’s never going to work – you can’t “test quality in.”)

His big hobby horse right now is reforming education in the U.S. because he thinks it’s pretty stupid right now, especially with all this testing. He points out that the current high school curriculum is basically from 1892, developed by the then-president of Harvard to suit the needs of a university dedicated to turning out scholars. Schank notes that scholars are typically not doers, and doers is more of what we need in our economy at this point. In fact, we have a surfeit of scholars – a lot more qualified people apply for professorships in academe than there are professorships to fill. And he also points out that the curriculum is full of stuff that is not very useful to us – a lot of stuff that gets memorized by rote in order to pass a test in high school, and a lot of stuff that’s of no use to your future when you’re in college.

I hire American workers. I particularly like to hire American Ph.D.’s (in Russian Literature, History of Medicine and Archeology to name three recent hires of mine.) I like to hire people like that because they are very smart individuals who have bought the stuff that colleges sell and wound up unemployable because of it. I like how smart they are. I have no use for what they learned in their PhD programs however.

So he’s proposing a radical new curriculum, based on teaching people to do things that are useful and productive in society, and letting students – to some degree at any rate – choose what they learn. This will help address in particular one of the biggest issues in schools today. What’s the number one word that students in high school and elementary school use to describe what they are studying? “Boring.” Why are we teaching kids, who are fascinated by so much useful and interesting and mind-bending stuff, to be bored in school? Schank doesn’t think it’s a good idea, and I tend to agree with him.

Back in February Obama gave a speech about education and asked CEOs to recommend changes in education. As the CEO of his own education foundation, Schank responded, and I wanted to feature some of his answer – you can read the rest on his blog.

I support the American economy by building learning by doing project-based courses and degree programs that teach people how to do things rather than listen and memorize things. Oh wait. That was the Spanish economy since I built those courses for Spain (and for Peru and soon for some other developing countries.) Why don’t I build them for the U.S.? I did initially, but our universities think that what matters most is the brand name of their degree and not the quality of the education entailed in that degree. The best universities in the U.S. are controlled by very conservative faculty who have no incentive to change the system in any way.

What do you think? Is this the kind of change the education needs in this country? My take is that if we changed education along the lines that Schank is suggesting, the U.S. could regain our economic lead in the world despite our aging population. And if we *don’t* do this, some other country or countries are going to figure it out and leapfrog us. That will not be a good era for the U.S., in my opinion.


27
Jun 12

Accelerating Change – The Last Ten Years And The Next Ten Years

As I sit here in a coffee shop writing on my laptop, much of what I observe around me would have been here ten years ago. People sitting and chatting, young people doing homework, someone knitting, all with their mochas and lattes and cups of tea. But I also see people typing on their laptops, connected to the internet via wifi, or talking on their smart phones, perhaps planning where to eat dinner using Yelp, getting advice from Siri, or getting travel guidance using Google Maps. They could be catching up on TV shows they missed last week or last year via Netflix or Hulu. Or simply catching up with their friends via Facebook.

In the last ten years we had the following new technologies reach wide market adoption, even if some had been under development for much longer:

  •     Smart phones
  •     Web 2.0 and 3.0
  •     Mobile computing
  •     The ubiquity of HDTV
  •     The rise of 3d TV
  •     Skype
  •     Facebook
  •     GPS
  •     Siri
  •     The app-ification of everything
  •     Netflix
  •     Facetime
  •     Stuxnet
  •     The iPad
  •     Wifi
  •     Wikipedia (started more than 10 years ago, but grew explosively during that time)
  •     The disappearance of cameras – everyone uses their phone now
  •     The Cloud

This is just some of what has changed over the past ten years in technology. Many other technology changes are less obvious, like the fact that most cars now have much more power, from smaller and more fuel efficient engines, than in the past, thanks to advances in digital design and manufacturing. That our laptops are lighter and run for longer on a single charge, due to improvements in battery technology. And that their internal storage, while huge, is also augmented by unlimited storage in the cloud.

But technology advances ever faster, so the magnitude of the changes in the next ten years will dwarf the changes of the last ten years. Over the course of that period, processing power is likely to grow by a factor of 40 or 50. This is less important to your laptop than it is to devices that don’t exist yet, like an implantable super-computer.

Right now an iPhone 4S rivals supercomputers of a decade ago in processing power. In ten years, that amount of processing power will be available in a device only 2% of the size of an iPhone – a good size, perhaps, to be implanted in a human brain, or certainly in a prosthetic arm (or eye).

The storage available in a laptop will be a nearly unimaginable size, but the really interesting place for storage might be on our eyeglasses, connected to a camera that can record every waking moment of our life and store it in the space of the temple of the glasses. What you might do with all that information is a very good question, but it’s always been the case that we’ve managed to use up all the storage we can get. Perhaps there’s a limit to how much we can use, but we’re far from reaching that point, and we certainly won’t reach it in ten years (since after all, we still won’t be at “brain-level” storage capacity then). Or perhaps that storage is in a microrobot that swims in your bloodstream, recording your levels of nutrients and drugs, and detecting the signatures of illnesses and conditions early, constantly monitoring, and reporting back, how you are doing.

What other changes are in store? Well, just as today almost 1/3 of the people of the earth have access to mobile phones, and about 10% have smart phones, in ten years not only will the fraction be bigger, but the mobile phones themselves will be transformed. Even the poorest communities in the world will have access to supercomputer-level processing power, and richer communities will have commensurately more powerful capabilities. And the connectivity to go with it. Imagine the outcome of such a widespread availability of such open communication platforms. Of course, they may not remain open, but even if full openness is limited for some, everyone will have access to more information and knowledge and training and collaboration than has ever been possible. The innovation and transformation that will be driven by making the tools of the 21st century available to half of the poorest people in the world is likely to result in changes that are not only different in scale and scope than we’ve experienced before, but different in kind as well.

So far, I’ve only talked about technologies related to high-tech electronics and digitization. There are three significant areas that will also have significant impacts on our lives over the next decade, even if their major fruits are still farther in the future:

  • Nanotechnology and new materials – already today new advances in production and use of carbon nanotubes and new composite materials are announced nearly every day from the research labs of the world
  • New energy systems and energy efficiency – every day MIT and Rice University and Caltech and all the other research universities around the world announce energy-related discoveries and breakthroughs, from stacking nanotubes to make transparent infrared-sensitive solar cells, to new catalysts for small, affordable fuel cells, to breakthroughs in energy density for all these devices, among others.
  • Biotechnology, genomics, and related fields like proteomics – soon desktop bioreactors, that can make living cells from basic ingredients, will be commonplace in laboratories, and then it’s a small step to a Bill Gates-type creating the new world in his or her bedroom.

These technologies are all in very early days today, but in ten years at least some will have matured into commercial viability, and new changes will be upon us.

I’m looking forward to having these new technologies at our fingertips, and to helping bring some of them to market myself. It’s the brave new world for product people like me, full of promise and exciting challenges, taking discoveries and insights from labs and turning them into products that make a difference in peoples’s lives and potentially in our planet’s survival.

What are you thinking about the future? What technologies excite you? What “miracle” are you looking forward to? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this post and the series about future tech.


26
Jun 12

Are You Ready For The Accelerating Tech Miracles of The Next 10 Years?

How much change is likely to happen in five years, in ten years? This is one of my favorite topics – the acceleration of technology. Many day-to-day things we take for granted today were miracles ten years ago, and the same will be the case ten years hence. Here are some miracles today that we will likely have in five to ten years:

  • A babelfish – a universal real-time translator, as described in the masterpiece The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Full time no-glasses 3d on TV (almost here, really)
  • Full time heads up display and associated apps and capabilities – cameras, etc. – Google Glass is just the beginning!
  • Self-driving cars. No crashes. Much more filled roadways.
  • Immersive work from home – telecommuting is just like being in the office (if you want)
  • Real cybernetics – an artificial limb that has a sense of touch, for example. Or an artificial eye implant that restores decent sight to a blind person. With a camera built in, so that the blind person is the first person to have a bionic eye. Or with interchangeable sensors so the formerly blind person can see a wider range of information than we normals can.
  • Vat-grown organ replacements – nearly here now, as discussed in this TED Talk on growing organs
  • Human performance enhancements – pharmaceutical, prosthetic, neurological – that enable use to perform physically and mentally two to ten times faster and stronger.

Yesterday I read about a new research project and demonstration at MIT of the T(ether), a device/system that enables capture and replay of 3-D gestures and actions, using an iPad and some additional sensors that capture where the iPad is in 3d space. Earlier this week I saw a video demonstration of the new Leap Motion device providing high-resolution Kinect-like 3d motion capture functionality for a laptop, enabling at least one half of the then miraculous interactions that were created using special effects in the movies Minority Report and The Avenger’s. These two devices are not the final story in how people will interact with a virtual world in real-world 3d, but they do illustrate just how amazing our technology has become in the last few years. And the Leap device is shipping now to early adopters and developers!

When the Xbox and its cousins were originally released, the idea of using your body as a controller seemed ridiculously far-fetched, if anyone was even thinking about it at all outside the game labs and the special effects departments of movie studios. But then gradually these capabilities started to be released from the woodwork, and soon they were available on all the consoles. They were enabled by the creation of new sensors and massive processing power. Ten years ago they were unimaginable except in science fiction stories – today they are in nearly every teenager’s bedroom.

Tomorrow I’ll continue this series about technological acceleration, look at a whole lot of innovations we’ve experienced over the past ten years, and see if we can come up with some predictions for the next ten years.


19
Jun 12

Gamification of Enterprise Applications – Applying Gabe Zichermann’s Six Rules of Gamification

In my first post in this series I discussed some of the issues that enterprise applications have from a usability and engagement standpoint, as well as the key fact that the users of these apps are inclined to be motivated, both intrinsically and extrinsically, to use them. In the second post, I described an enterprise product planning application – Accept360 – that will serve as a “testbed” for applying gamification ideas.

As a refresher, the key usability and engagement issues mentioned in the first post included:

  • A choppy experience
  • Lack of flow
  • Rigidity
  • Lack of feedback to the user on whether he or she is doing a good job
  • No ability for a user to get advice or guidance in-context from another, more expert user
  • No ability for a user to be recognized as an expert

Now, in this third post we’ll start from Gabe Zichermann’s six rules of gamification and see how we can address the usability and engagement issues in the context of our sample application.

Gabe laid out his six rules in a blog post in November 2011 as guidelines for people working on gamifying applications (not necessarily enterprise applications):

  1. Understand what constitutes a “win” for the organization/sponsor
  2. Unpack the player’s intrinsic motivation and progress to mastery
  3. Design for the emotional human, not the rational human.
  4. Develop scalable, meaningful intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
  5. Use one of the leading platform vendors to scale your project (don’t roll your own)
  6. Most interactions are boring: make everything a little more fun

These rules are great, and I don’t think you can go wrong with applying them to any application to get better results and better engagement. However, I think for the purpose of our enterprise application example, we can reformulate the first rule a little bit to talk about “the user,” rather than “the sponsor.” After all, as discussed in part 1, we’re talking about a tool that motivated professionals are using (and disliking, typically) to do a job they are motivated to do. So we don’t have to consider directly what the organization considers a win, we can consider what the user considers a win – by definition that’s something that furthers the interests of the organization.

Focusing initially on rule #1, “Understand what constitutes a win for the user,” we can think of a lot of opportunities for user “wins” in a typical enterprise app – things that users cannot accomplish easily, but which a game-inspired redesign can enable. At a high level, of course, simply getting through their job is the big “win” for our users. But making the process of getting through the job better will constitute the smaller wins we’re looking for:

  • Getting out of their way, that is, “don’t make me jump through hoops to do my job.” This relates to the issue I listed above of a “choppy” experience, where you have to navigate back and forth through lots of screens to achieve a goal
  • Let me know how I’m doing and where I am – how much work is left to accomplish this goal, am I close to “good enough?” How much more to get to “Exemplary?” This is like the progress bar in games like WoW that tell you how many more experience points (XPs) you need to get to the next level. And which is missing in pretty much every enterprise application.
  • Making it easier to complete a process that I do every now and then, but I have to relearn each time – this could involve a wizard-like interaction that provides context-specific guidance for completing the task effectively. Some applications have wizards, but they are often provided for the tasks that one does regularly, which means they are actually obstacles once the user learns the application and uses it regularly.
  • Guiding and structuring collaboration on a process that requires multiple people to complete. Of all the “win opportunities” this is the one that is probably best handled by existing enterprise applications. Because the workflow of information is often a critical business requirement, many enterprise applications incorporate a workflow approach.

Each of these activities constitutes a “win” for the user.

In the next post of the series we’ll continue our look at applying these rules to improve enterprise applications. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts, questions, and concerns so far in the comments.


18
Jun 12

Gamifying Enterprise Applications – An Example To Work From

As I wade into what can be abstract ideas about gamifying enterprise apps, I think it will help to make them more concrete with some examples from a product I’m intimately familiar with, Accept360. This is the product for which I’m the product manager, and believe me, as a daily user of my own product, over the years I’ve experienced all the issues I mentioned in last week’s post!

Accept360 Logo

Accept360 - For enterprise product planning

Accept360 is a product planning product that includes portfolio planning, requirements management, agile management, and other related capabilities. One of the fundamental operations in Accept360 is creation of a product requirement.

In our system product requirements are somewhat complex objects that not only contain a name and description, but can also have:

  • Multiple rich text sections
  • A complete implementation estimate (in terms of multiple tasks assigned to multiple resources)
  • Weighted relationships to market elements such as the customers who have requested or will benefit from the capability and the marketing themes that the capability supports
  • The suggestions and ideas we’ve collected from customers and the market that have driven the creation of the requirement in the first place
  • Child requirements that elaborate the main requirement
  • Any number of custom properties of various types

And just to make it trickier, a requirement can have any combination of these and many other pieces of data associated with it. Depending on a customer’s product planning process, they might want or require more or less data for each requirement type.

A requirement is thus a this fairly complex chunk of data. It typically takes a product manager multiple hours or days of work to get from initial draft to delivered capability, over the course of days or weeks or even months, and with multiple conversations and collaboration sessions with other product managers, development managers, and developers (and customers, marketers, executives, etc. – the list of collaborators can go on and on).

I’ll use these capabilities of Accept360 as a testbed for how gamification can be applied to an enterprise application. (I recognize that not every enterprise app can be as cool as Accept360, but it’s still a good example.) Because of its level of complexity – all of which is simply a reality of the product planning and delivery process – there are many opportunities for applying game design and game mechanics to make the use of Accept360 a better experience. Some of the most obvious examples might be:

  • Onboarding a user – When users start working with the product, you need to let them into the world of Accept360 gently, otherwise it’s too overwhelming
  • Providing step-by-step guidance to a user the first few times he or she does a new task
  • Providing guidance at any particular point in time about where or what the user should do next – for example, if they’ve written a requirement, perhaps it should be reviewed by a colleague
  • “Scoring” a requirement – letting the user see how their require stacks up against a “best practice” requirement, and then guiding them on how to improve theirs if it comes up short
  • Getting credit for a well-written requirement – ideally this would be done via review and voting by your colleagues who need to make use of the requirement (i.e., engineers or engineering managers)
  • Getting a rank or overall score that recognizes how good you are at writing requirements, or doing any of the other myriad tasks that make up the product planning process

I am using Accept360 as the example application for applying gamification because it’s the one I’m most familiar with, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about other enterprise apps that are ripe for game design and game mechanics. Let me know in the comments.

 


11
Jun 12

What Comes After Google Glass? (Part 1)

Some Thoughts On The Future of Reading

Like any good technologist, I’m very interested in the future. I’m waiting anxiously to hear what Tim Cook will say this week at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, of course, but for this post I’m going to look a bit farther in the future.

Google Glass has been in the news lately, including an interview with Sebastien Thrun of the GoogleX research lab on the Charlie Rose show, where he showed the Google Glass device and even kind of demonstrated it. The fundamental idea of Google Glass, apparently, is to put a virtual layer over the real world to enable people to do cool stuff without interacting directly with a traditional device like a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop.

A question that occurred to me was how will people read in a Google Glass world? And by “read” I mean long form items like books, magazine articles, and so on – not the messages that come up on a phone screen.

Humans Remain Humans (At Least For A While)

Even in the future, there will be some “fixed points” of human behavior. For example, people will still be talking to each other. And they will still be reading books and long-form articles, and a smaller group will still be writing. But just as today we have many more ways for people to talk to each other than our ancestors did 100 years ago (i.e., the phone, text messages, email, video chat, and so on, in addition to the basics of speaking face-to-face), in the future there will be even more new modes by which people are talking.

The same is true for reading. We’ve gone from hand-written books before Gutenberg, to hard-cover books for several centuries, to broadsheets, to paperbacks (as an addition to hardcover books), and lately to Kindles and e-readers (again, in addition to the physical books), as well as audio books.

In the activity of talking to people, we’ve essentially dematerialized the conversation – you don’t have to be in the same place as your interlocutor, and you don’t have even speak.

Do We Need A Device? Not Technically

Today, we still need a physical artifact – a book, or a magazine, or a device – to read (versus listen to) a book. In the future, is there any reason that people need to read books on a device at all? Or on a device that’s so ubiquitous that it’s not really a device, such as Google Glass or its tenth generation descendant (Google Contacts)?

Well, there’s no question that this will be possible, and it will definitely be the way we consume some reading material, just as today I do occasionally read books on my iPhone, when my iPad or Kindle is not handy.

In fact, there’s no intrinsic reason it has to be a device. It could be a reengineered brain that hijacks the visual signal and adds something on it, like a book.

This is one vision of “the brave new world” of augmented reality, and as I say, there’s no technical reason this can’t happen.

Pitfalls Ahead?

But while I think this is an awesome and cool vision, there are some potential practical pitfalls, which I’ll talk about tomorrow in a follow-on post. In the meantime, what are your “visions” for the future of reading, and for anything else related to Google Glass?