Google is pinging people at random times, and asking them what they want to know at that moment, in an effort to uncover new types of information that it can potentially provide to users. This is a research strategy that Google is conducting, as it looks to shape the future of how people consume information.
The project is described by Tom Simonite at MIT Technology Review. He claims to be a participant in a group of about 150 people Google has chosen to help it conduct its research. According to Simonite, Google "buzzed" at eight randomly chosen times a day for three days last month, and asked "What did you want to know recently?" He says Google is looking for the types of information that people are looking somewhere other than Google for, or perhaps things that the user wanted to know, but simply didn't attempt to search Google for.
What Google finds from its research could be crucial to how it approaches future features of Google Now and Google Glass, or perhaps something even beyond these. The research effort is being called the Daily Information Needs Study, according to Simonite, who has spoken with Google Search lead user experience designer Jon Wiley about the project:
If Google is to achieve its stated mission to “organize the world's information and make it universally accessible,” says Wiley, it must find out about those hidden needs and learn how to serve them. And he says experience sampling—bugging people to share what they want to know right now, whether they took action on it or not—is the best way to do it. “Doing that on a mobile device is a relatively new technology, and it’s getting us better information that we really haven’t had in the past,” he says.
If we're being honest about Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible, Google is far from accomplishing it. As many strides as Google has made over the years, and as better as it gets in some areas, we've also been exposed to major obstacles in this goal - increased resistance from other keepers of information. How can Google really accomplish this goal, for example, without access to our Facebook accounts? How can it accomplish this without providing tweets in real time as news breaks on Twitter in the moment?
That said, as such an ambitious goal may not be possible to achieve completely, Google can still find ways to make our lives easier, and maintain an edge over its various competitors. If people have information needs that aren't being met, it's in Google's best interest to meet them, and this particular "study" may be a surprisingly simple way of sparking some ideas for innovation in information consumption.
Google Now, while in its infancy, already shows tremendous potential in this area. If Google Glass manages to become even close to what Google presented in its initial concept video, things are going to get very interesting very fast. If the device is useful enough, could that outweigh the vanity factor? In other words, if you can do amazing things with Glass, would you wear the device all the time, regardless of how ridiculous you might look? Of course, there's a very real possibility that this could evolve past the Glass stage and directly into the contact lens stage. Then, all of a sudden, vanity is no longer even an issue.