You’d be forgiven if you had no idea who Area 120 was. I personally had no clue until my son found an awesome kids reading app called Rivet. Area 120 is Google’s in house incubator. Googlers get to use 20% of their time on something they feel will most benefit the company and was created by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2004. They felt this empowered their employees to be more creative and innovative. Well, some Googlers believed in those projects so much that they decided to spend 100% of their time on that 20% – hence their name. I like to think of them as a top secret area like Area 51 but with a higher number. Seriously, some really cool stuff comes out of this team!
Rivet is one of those awesome things. It’s a reading practice app for kids and it’s extremely cool. It has over 3,500 free books for a variety of children’s reading levels. It also lets them read along with those books and if they can’t pronounce a word, they can tap on it to get help. Rivet then listens for their voice to make sure they pronounced the word correctly before continuing. To achieve this, it uses cutting-edge machine learning, natural language processing and speech technology. Basically, it’s science fiction, but what isn’t these days? We’re truly living in the future!
The team at Rivet is passionate about solving big problems in education and has done a fantastic job with their product. That’s why I was so sad to hear that Rivet was shutting down. Yep, you heard that right. As of October 16, 2020 you will no longer be able to access this incredibly innovative service. Bummer. Has the Google graveyard filled up and rented out space in Area 120? Well, not exactly. Area 120 was actually created with the intention that they would incubate awesome ideas that weren’t core to what Google was working on directly and should it become wildly successful, they would move it directly into Google services.
Luckily for kids everywhere, Rivet is migrating into Google Assistant this winter – some of it, anyways. A portion of Rivet’s books will be moving directly into Google’s new Kids Space which is a part of Family Link and will be free. A lot more of those books will be released back to Youtube where they originated. The last portion will become a part of Google Assistant for use on Nest Hub and Max smart displays for families to enjoy together. This move keeps much of this content available to Chromebook owners via Youtube and Kid’s Space, but there was no mention of the core of Rivet via Assistant being available on Chromebooks. Nest Hub and Max displays prioritize visual content and Chromebooks prioritize audio based Assistant content, so it’s unlikely at this time.
While this sounds like bad news, I believe that it’s the best thing that could happen. Despite no longer being available in a beautiful, kid friendly app, we know that when Google moves something into Assistant or further in house it means that they have decided to invest into it more heavily as opposed to ‘sunsetting’ it entirely. I’d argue that Google has never killed a product and that the Google Graveyard is actually empty as every idea fuels a more AI and machine learning oriented idea down the line, leading to more accessibility, organization and automation, but that’s a talk for another time.
My son will definitely miss seeing the pictures in books for a few months while the transition occurs, but being that he’s obsessed with our Nest Hub, I think he will still greatly enjoy Rivet in its new body as much as he enjoys using the Hub for Storynory. In the meantime, he’s spending a lot of time earning stars in Google’s other secret reading app Read Along.