Wearing Google Glass during the NBA draft was Victor Oladipo's idea. The Indiana University basketball star would be drafted to the Orlando Magic for everyone to see—point-of-view style—on tech news site The Verge. Things certainly didn't go as planned—but what resulted may be proof that Google Glass is one of journalism's most viable new tools.
"Glass, I think, is pretty useless for normal people," says managing editor Nilay Patel at The Verge. "It just doesn’t add value to your everyday life. But as a media person—someone who makes stories—it’s a head-mounted Internet-connected camera that celebrities want to wear. It is a narrative tool unlike anything else." (You can read the resulting story here.)
Brainstorming with social media marketing agency Carrot Creative, who made the introduction between The Verge editors and Oladipo, a list of ideal activities came up quickly. "Best case scenario, kaboom! He wears it during the draft and gets it all on video, then we do video around him, and an interview after the event with his byline—as told to me," says Patel. "It was supposed to be as first person as it gets. And none of that happened."
From the outset, there were challenges to using Glass for first-person journalism. The biggest: The NBA wouldn’t let Oladipo wear Glass while he was getting drafted. Then there were logistics; each day after filming, The Verge team, which is based near Bryant Park here in New York, had to run over to the Westin where Oladipo was staying in order to download the day’s video and clear the Glass's minuscule flash storage for the next day's footage.
But the resulting video, says Patel, was nothing short of incredible anyway.
"We have it on video—we have the guy from the NBA telling him to take it off. You get to see: This is how the NBA comes and talks to players who are in the draft," says Patel. "He didn’t wear it on stage—but what we ended up with wasn't so much of a spectacle. It’s more like 'what it feels like to be an instant millionaire.'"
The Verge doesn’t typically cover sports, but they’re a journalistic outlet with half a dozen pairs of Google Glass around the office. It's easy to see, in light of this story, why technology news sites have prospered while more traditional outfits struggle: These days, the news "experience" depends as much on the hardware and software used to create the story as it is does the angle or the voice.
"Editing the first-person video, all the editors were taken aback—it’s like being in his body at times," says Patel. "When we were out [filming] he was referring to it as the 'V.O. show.' He was narrating his view, being really candid—I don’t know if I could come up with a better tool to tell stories about people."
Reached by phone on July 3rd, Oladipo told FastCo.Labs he loved making the V.O. Show."It's different—you're making our own movie. You can start filming when you want to and stop when you want to," he says. "It gives people a better feel for things because it's your actual perspective—it's your life."
The intimacy of the medium shocked the editors at The Verge. "We’re with this kid in the bathroom of his hotel room while he’s trying on his suit," says Patel, "and it’s funny, it’s cool, he knows the camera’s on because he’s wearing it—he’s playing it up. But instead of having that separation of having another cameraman there watching him, it’s literally just him. It literally looks like you’re there in his head. It's freaky."
"The other players were surprised at first," explained Oladipo. "When I put them on, people were like: What is that? They realized how rare it was for someone to have [Glass]—everyone kept asking me how it worked."
That's one downside—because of its new-toy status, Glass inserts itself irrevocably into the story in ways other camera gear might not. "All the other players are a bunch of millionaire 20-year-olds, so they are interested in gadgets," says Patel. "Part of the story was: Here’s what it’s like for this celebrity to play with this toy. But we tried to make the story as little about Google Glass as possible," he says. "It’s just a tool, but it’s funny because he’s hyper aware of it," says Patel.
For a regular person, Patel says, wearing a head-mounted camera would be an obstacle, not a boon—it's more than enough to make people feel self-conscious. But being used to cameras, celebrities like Oladipo (who was a major NCAA star) have an inherent comfort level with being in control of the story.
"He’s hamming it up, he’s narrating, he’s telling the whole story," says Patel. "If there were a camera person there, I don’t think he would stare at the camera and talk about his feelings in the way with Glass on his face. The fact that he was performing, was aware of the camera, at all times—like, 'I’m going to tell you this story'—that is what makes Glass so powerful.
The upshot of Glass as a storytelling tool? "There will be a new class of terrible reality television," Patel says, "but it will enable us to tell stories we’ve never told before." The Verge gave [Oladipo] a tethered phone to go along with Glass, but he never used it: Its sole value was the camera, says Patel.
"The draft is a once in a lifetime experience, and it proved to me Google Glass is gonna be big down the road," Oladipo told me. "This is going to affect our culture in a big way." Will we see any more episodes of the V.O. Show in the future? "I'd do it again—definitely."