Pack Your Books We're Going on a Field Trip

Last week, Google announced a new app called Field Trip for U.S. Android phones. While this isn’t an app specifically about books, it’s relevant and worth keeping an eye on because there’s room for collaboration and it can serve as inspiration.

Field Trip tracks your location and pushes notifications to you of interesting facts about the place around you. It could be anything from a historical fact to a restaurant review, depending on which feeds you select. The feeds use information from a variety of Google properties and publishing partners. Google is fairly self-sufficient when it comes to location-based information. They have Google Maps and Places, they own Frommer’s and Zagat, and have Google Offers, but there may be room for more.

It’s early days and with only Canadian iPhone I can’t download the app to investigate myself but I’m not sure they’ve got literature covered yet. This would be a great opportunity for publishers or a company like Small Demons to offer up some location-based book information. Better yet, what if location-based information in Field Trip could be linked to the e-book your device knows you’re reading? When walking down a street, I could get a notification that Tina Fey grew up in this building (based on information from her memoir) or that the place on which the Gatsby estate is based on is around the corner.

Why bother? Well, it’s about getting people to think about books and relate books to other experiences in their lives. Many notifications could remind users of books already read, but it will also suggest new reads that are relevant in that moment. Most importantly it reminds users of reading, and makes reading even more relevant. After all, a book’s greatest competitor is not another book but rather Angry Birds, YouTube or email.

Bookstores have an opportunity here as well. Anyone with a store front should at least make sure their entry in Google Places is up-to-date. There may also be opportunities for destination stores to get listed in travel feeds and participate in Google Offers.

Taking a step back for a moment, it’s important to read between the lines. Google is taking the app to the next level. While some may doubt the willingness of mobile users to receive push notifications, which have often been perceived as interruptions or nuisances, Field Trip is poised to really take off and change our relationship with apps. Field Trip allows you to choose how much information you want to receive (from the intense explorer mode to the sparing “I’m feeling lucky” setting) so that push notifications are welcome and appreciated.

From the tech perspective what’s really important here is that Field Trip is taking the focus away from making users use an app to just having the app work effortlessly. And if Google succeeds with this app, they will hold a lot of power. As The New York Times explains, “Google, along with other companies and researchers, dreams of so-called ubiquitous computing or ambient intelligence — computers woven into the texture of life as opposed to being separate machines. Eventually, the theory goes, computers will be part of the environment, know where people are and anticipate what they want to know.”

Let’s get involved early and work thoughts of books into augmented reality so that by the time “ambient intelligence” can anticipate what people want to know, people will have grown accustomed to their reading being integrated into their new tech-saturated everyday.