Google Glass is looking to be the next must-have digital device. The small computer you wear like eyeglasses allows you to surf the Web, email, text, take photos, shoot and stream live video and more — hands-free.
For now Google Glass is in very limited release, but even so, political professionals are eagerly exploring how it could become a powerful campaign tool.
I have been covering big, crowded political events of all kinds for a long time: conventions, campaign rallies, caucuses, committee meetings. But at this month's Conservative Political Action Conference I encountered something I'd not seen before: an activist working the bustling hallways wearing Google Glass.
"I'm trying to figure out ways activists can use it in the field," says Peter Ildefonso, a 25-year-old Republican and software developer from Severna Park, Md.
Ildefonso works for the nonprofit Leadership Institute, which trains young conservatives. In a webinar, two members of their team discuss Google Glass and its uses as a tool to capture video of the opposition at public events and rallies. They cite its advantages over a cellphone camera and its ability to capture more footage while moving around more freely, "without being as obvious."
Meanwhile, digital strategists for President Obama's campaigns are also studying how to take advantage of Google Glass.
Betsy Hoover is with a group called 270Strategies. "I do think that wearable technology, Google Glass being the front-runner of that right now, is fascinating," she says.
Glass could make it easier to communicate more seamlessly with campaign workers. Someone at headquarters, for example, could send a message to the screen of a volunteer standing on a porch knocking on a door, or watch a live video stream of volunteers talking to voters — depending on privacy laws, of course.
Then there's social media. The 2012 Obama campaign used Twitter and Facebook to connect supporters with one another. Hoover says those sites became even more important because people could access them on their smartphones. Hoover says Google Glass takes things to the next level.
"They don't have to pull their phone out of their pocket; they don't have to unlock it and go to the app they want," she says. "Rather, that experience is layered right on top of what they're doing when they're walking around, when they're reading street signs, when they're waiting for the bus."
And, she says, Google Glass wearers may even be able to receive information about a rally nearby, or volunteer opportunities, all based on their location at any moment.
"People are instantly available, and that's really exciting in terms of what campaigns and elected officials can do," she says.
Daniel Kreiss, a professor at the University of North Carolina, studies the impact of evolving technology on political campaigns.
"Ways in which folks who are involved in politics can share their firsthand experiences of being involved in politics with their wider social networks, I think, would be very valuable for campaigns," he says. "And potentially it would also encourage people who might be disengaged and less interested in politics to get more involved."
Kreiss cautions, though, that because Google Glass isn't available to the general public yet, it's not yet known whether it will take off commercially — something that would be necessary for it to be a hit in the political world.
He suggests that it will help campaigns get even better at the basics, "which is making voter contacts and monitoring the opposition, whether it's on the campaign trail or whether it's making contact with a voter at the doorstep or at a party convention."
Don't look for Google Glass to play a big role in this year's elections. Recall that in 2008, Twitter was around but not a big deal. By 2012, both major presidential campaigns had Twitter war rooms. Google Glass might one day have a story like that of its own.