By Sean Patrick Cooper
Google confirmed widespread rumors last night that it will soon launch an invitation-only beta-testing program for its controversial Android phone App, Word Count. According to a press release posted on the Google Lab Team blog, the App will make use of the Lab Team’s recently designed algorithms and a controversial piece of software known as Estimated Time of Death (ETD) to predict how many words a user has left to communicate before the user perishes and dies.
The program, set to begin in mid-February, will require the first group of beta-testers to participate in an initial 40-day data collection period, during which the installed Word Count App will monitor and analyze the user’s cell phone texting and voice activity. The App will also track the user’s web-based Google service activity, including Google web searches, and any messages sent or received through Gmail and GChat. On the 41st day, the App will self-activate and display the user’s daily Word Count—how many words, on average, the user communicates on a given day—as well as the approximate number of words the user has left to communicate before reaching the user’s ETD, displayed in a month, day, year format.
The initial batch of invites will be sent exclusively to High Volume Users—people who make regular use of the company’s wide variety of services, including but not limited to email, voice and video chatting, cell texting and voice communications, and searches of web, blog, news, and shopping sites. No specifics were given as to how much activity was needed to qualify a person for a potential invite.
Jonathan Keeps, owner of the smart phone App design company, Many Mates Inc., described the Word Count App as a potential motivational tool. “Users will, inevitably, want to use less words online, and maybe even offline, who knows, but tech people get excited when they can potentially have more free time because they’re typing fewer or short emails or cutting down on their interaction time with colleagues and clients.”
In a brief email interview, Google spokesman Thomas Barnett declined to comment on how many invites will initially be sent out. “As with all beta-tested Lab services, we’re enthusiastic to support as many public individuals as we can. Our primary goal with Word Count is to provide the best self-improvement tool available for the Android market place. We want our users to get their Word Counts as low as they can and their ETDs as far out into the future as possible,” said Barnett. The App will be available for free to invited users in the Self-Tracking section of the Android Market.
Word Count first made waves around the internet last December after an anonymous Google employee gave an interview in a bar to a journalist from the online media organization Gawker. The employee claimed to be one of over 5,000 company employees invited to participate in the internal beta-testing of the application. (Full transcript of interview available here:) Much was made of the employee’s claim that two employee beta-testers died within three or less days of their Estimated Time of Deaths. Over 500 employees quit the testing program once they caught wind of their colleagues accurately predicted deaths, said the employee. “It was all anyone at the company talked about,” he said. “Everyone that quit and even some that didn’t were real freaked out. Google and all our superiors, in every meeting, they always talk about ‘don’t be evil.’ Well, maybe it wasn’t evil. But it was creepy. And it bugged people out. Some people even quit their jobs. Others were upset they didn’t get invited.”
Barnett dismissed the validity of the interview. “[It’s] filled with the type of discrepancies and numerical inaccuracies you’d expect from someone who doesn’t go on the record. I’ll tell you this, not even 3,000 employees participated in the testing.” Barnett went on to say that Google “has no intention of making [their] users feel uncomfortable. Word Count is a free App for individuals who want to leverage their Google Experience to improve the quality and efficiency of their digital communications and digital lifestyle.”
Despite the controversial nature of the Word Count software, industry insiders speculate that Google’s stock (GOOG) will undoubtedly rise if the App performs as advertised and the company offers full user-support. Donald Webb, the New York Times bestselling author of the self-help book, “Googling Your Way to a 20-Hour Work Week,” and founder of the popular technology blog, Daringly Webbed, anticipates that Word Count will become a popular App in the Android Market. “Sure it’s going to piss people off. But it’s smart and smart people will use it. This is the biggest thing since Gmail. Expect over a million users in 12-months. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.”
Many have speculated that High Volume Users who utilize Word Count will, in fact, put less stress on the servers providing Google services as well as make those users more accurate in their web quires for information, services, and products. This could potentially lower Google’s costs of operations and allow them to charge more for the Ad Word campaigns that have been the company’s primary source of income over the last four-years. “Win-Win for GooG Inc. & Ad Words! Expenses down! Profits UP!! WAY UP! GooG stock=hot in 11’!” said Mark Von Kern, Co-founder of the Chicago hedge fund outfit BLUE FINZ and member of Forbes Richest Americans Under 30 List, in a Twitter post this morning.
According to the Google Lab Team press release, Word Count incorporates research and testing performed by the company’s recently outfitted PsyGooG department. A Google employee familiar with the department, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the algorithms that drive Word Count were inspired by the research of Dr. Beth Sun, the director of the department and famed evolutionary biologist. The employee stated that the phone App was conceived in large part because of Dr. Sun’s often-cited Communications Principle. Published in the late 90s to much fanfare, Dr. Sun’s principal states that people who accurately communicate their primary needs and wants tend to live longer lives, on average, than people who communicate those needs and wants less effectively. Word Count, said the employee, functions largely in sync with this principal, rewarding a user with a longer period till their ETD if they show signs of improved communication. Asked via email about her direct involvement with Word Count, Dr. Sun declined to comment.
“Sean Patrick Cooper’s writing is forthcoming, ideally, from multiple locations and has appeared, thankfully, in The Rumpus, The Millions, 3 Quarks Daily, and PopMatters, among other venues. He is online @ seanpatrickcooper.com“