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Barging in on Google

A barge under construction is docked at a pier on Treasure Island on October 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Mystery barges with construction of shipping containers have appeared in San Francisco and Portland, Maine, prompting online rumors that the barges are affiliated with a Google project.

Treasure Island is a former Navy base located in the middle of the Bay and sits about three miles east of San Francisco. Most people just drive past the place but these days, it’s getting an unusual amount of attention. That's because a barge is docked there.

So what?

Well, this barge is rumored to be owned by Google. Google’s not saying much but the rumor mill is running wild. So, I drove out to Treasure Island to check it out for myself. Turns out, the pier leading to the barge is fenced off and topped with razor wire. And the gates were locked. In the distance, I could see the barge. It was about four stories high, a half-a-block long and shrouded in  black mesh.

“This whole facility has been fenced off for about a year,” says Pat O’Hara a building contractor who works on the Island.

O’Hara says when he asked the workers what they were doing, weirdly, they had no clue.

“They would get a piece of the plan and they would build a portion and that’s all they knew they were building,” he says.

But Christina Norsig thinks she knows what’s up, “This looks like a pop-up concept to me.”  

Norsig is the author of “PopUp Retail.” Pop-ups are stores that open for a limited time,  often to create buzz. She says Target experimented with a floating store when it launched its Isaac Mizrahi line a few years ago. And recently, retailers have been playing with shipping containers to create pop-ups. 

“They’re combining ideas,” she says.

My sources told me Google’s going to use the barge to sell Google Glass, a wearable computer that sits on your face like spectacles.

Carl Howe is a retail analyst with the Yankee Group. “They’re going to have to do some experimentation in terms of how to sell it,” he says.

Howe imagines each container offering consumers a different scenario. One might be for gamers. Another might mimic a ski slope. He says you’ve heard of Disneyland? Well, “I love the idea of Googleland,” he says.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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