i. Ingress debuts
Nothing spells excitement more clearly than a closed, invite-only beta that comes out straight from the Google Lab.
Yes, we’re talking about Ingress, the Augmented Reality Game (ARG) that isn’t the first of its kind, but arguably one of the most immersive and anticipated. Now, with the abundance of apps and games making an appearance on the iOS and Android platform, the level of excitement, vibe and anticipation it has generated certainly has shown some promise.
Watch the trailer: Ingress – It’s time to move.
Did I already mentioned the Google engineers behind the creation of Ingress?
Or, more precisely, the engineers from Niantic Labs helmed by John Hanke. Since, to fully understand the genius of Ingress, it’s worth a bit of effort to begin with the visionary behind this Google-branded invention.
The visionary: John Hanke
John Hanke is an industry thinker whom introduced himself as a man interested in “the use of ubiquitous mobile computing in ways that move society forward”. He was the former CEO of Keyhole. When Keyhole was acquired by Google is 2004, John was appointed head of Google’s Geo division, known for Google Maps, Local, StreetView and Google Earth.
Fittingly so, since Google Earth is essentially Hanke-founded Keyhole’s flagship product, known as Earth Viewer before the re-branding accompanying the acquisition.
Hanke, however, was not about to settle with his area of specialization — read, Geo technology — and with a little support from Google’s top management he started a new business unit that would focus on developing cutting edge mobile apps with local and social elements being an integral part of them.
So when John Hanke and his team at Niantic Labs release something that combines Geo, Social and Mobile technology it immediately qualifies as headline materials on The Nerd’s Radar. Or Singles Weekly. Or The Geek’s Guide to Manliness.
Ingress: Alternate Reality Gaming takes a new spin
Ingress is an alternate reality where players join one of Ingress’ two factions and would have to travel to portals that might be anywhere on a physical map. Ingress players, carrying their Android device (yet to be announced on Apple’s iOS and other mobile platforms), would wander out into the physical world, either attempting a “hack”, undergoing missions, or to pick up virtual units that are all crucial for the gameplay.
Players would have to travel physical walking paths, possibly underground terrains and less-known alleys to achieve these gameplay objectives. Players from all over the world can play wherever they are, and travelling from one location to another “portal” makes the mission-based game all the more interactive.
You see, in a way, Ingress is the summation of massive social gaming, augmented reality, geo-location technology and an incredibly immersive story plot.
But beyond the social interactivity, physical activity and all the entertainment Niantic Labs have generated, Ingress is a bigger testimonial to Google’s values and philosophy.
Ingress: The device for Google’s geo-location advertising.
I recently read an article on AllThingsD prior to this writing, and in the article the author noted, from conversations with Hanke earlier, how Ingress will be good for Google “because of advertising”.
But Hanke contended that the game will be good for Google’s business from the beginning. That’s because of advertising. Ingress incorporates real physical stores and products in the game, and has brokered relationships with Hint Water, Zipcar, Jamba Juice and Chrome apparel and messenger bags.
And eventually, Google plans to make these real-world game tools available as a platform for developers to make their own.
I do partially agree that Ingress has a role to play in Google’s ambitions in the realm of geo-location advertising, although I very much doubt that such is the only agenda of the California-based company.
Past instruments for Google’s data-collection scheme
I’m not exactly a fan of conspiracy theories, although I won’t deny that I do find amusement in a large number of them. The same amusement on a kid’s lighten expression as his nimble fingers search and scatter the puzzle pieces laid in front of him.
The puzzle pieces might never find one another. Nevertheless we see it, or so we thought. The picture makes sense, despite the missing pieces, and that’s perfectly OK because this is an opinionated piece of writing.
But first let’s look at the puzzle pieces, then we can do some matching and apply better sense to it.
On August 31 2006, Google launched the Image Labeler, which takes the form of a game and allows user to label random images Google threw at them. In the game, players are randomly paired with another player and both will try to provide as many labels as possible to each image over a period of 2 minutes. The player will receive points when a label matches his randomly selected partner.
Sounds a lot of potential for The Nerd’s Radar. Or Singles Weekend. Or The Geek’s Guide to Manliness.
What is the greater significance of the invention? Astoundingly simple. The goal is to help Google improve the relevance of its Image search results, by indirectly “teaching” the search engine how to associate each images with the most relevant search terms.
What about 1-800-GOOG-411, the free and automated telephone-based directory search that handles directory searches via a toll-free number through speech recognition technology? Since, at that time (now discontinued) GOOG-411 was a free alternative to similar services, except without the premium charges users would expect to pay otherwise, many questioned its business viability. Even more so when Google has reportedly spent money to promoting the product. Yes, a company that traditionally do not advertise, actually advertise on something that has clearly no revenue potential whatsoever.
But if we take a close look into the ulterior motive of GOOG-411, it’s hard not to be impressed by the resourcefulness of Google’s creativity and bold philosophy.
Quoting Marrisa Mayer (ex-Googler, present CEO of Yahoo!),
The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. … So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we’re trying to get the voice out of video, we can do it with high accuracy.
What did they do when Google decided that the data mining has sufficiently met its founding objective? They discountinued it and “put all their resources into speech-enabling the next generation of Google products and services across a multitude of languages”.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with any of the two data-collection schemes I’ve mentioned above, what about Google’s free reCAPTCHA service you probably have come across on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular sites?
Yes, the program that generates jumbled, distorted word tests that computers will not be able to decipher, thus serving as an anti-bot gateway. In fact, the abbreviation CAPTCHA stands for “completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart”
Wonder how many CAPTCHAs are solved every day? 200 million. That’s equivalent to 200 human feedback to Google, every day. Collectively, that translates to 150,000 hours of human work each day. What did Google accomplish with this free service and its huge resulting (huge) pool of human knowledge?
Digitization of physical books. These books, written before the digital era are photographically scanned into image and lend on the strength of Optical Character Recognition(OCR) to be transformed into legitimate text. OCR is the function where Google’s reCAPTCHA program works its magic into fine-tuning the transformation of scanned images into text.
Now you wonder if anybody else could have digitize a good twenty years of The New York Times more efficiently than Google has been able to do so in months.
Apart from the obvious benefit on Google Books, this undertaking has also echoed Google’s very fundamental vision of making information more accessible to the world.
Ingress: Google’s latest data-mining instrument
With Ingress, Google can expect to collate enormous data on walking paths and pedestrian routes, all over the world in a real-time, two-way feedback manner. The human knowledge gathered can then be used to inform the data curator of where, what, and how of each locations. Mind you, we left out the who. Which, if we were to touch on geo-targeting and other tailored advertising(targeting) techniques, were to be an entirely new post on its own.
But as it stands, the collective effort to voluntarily build Google this massive database via GPS-enabled personal devices (millions of them, even!) in exchange of a little fun, is proof of Google’s genius philosophy at work.
Another Google-branded product that made it to The Nerd’s Radar. Or Singles Weekly. Maybe not The Geek’s Guide to Manliness this time.
Another tremendous infrastructure on which there’s a lot to build on. Google Maps and other navigation apps that has yet to make its way from the Geo Division Lab. Google’s big bet on Geo-targeting, micro-targeting or location-aware advertising platforms (why not? They know where you are, which park you frequent, and which route you take from home to work now, right?)
Oh, did I forget to mention how the massive data-mining might accelerate the development of Google’s Project Glass program making it location-aware. To see what the human sees.
So the next time you were on your way to Starbucks to pick up coffee, a real-time ad bidding system can run in the background and a cleverly designed Mc Cafe advertising can be served right in front of you, telling you how it’s 200m nearer and having a 2 for 1 promotion this very hour. Heck, it even gives you direction.
I got my Ingress invitation but if you haven’t and would like to, try one of the two ways.
1. Visit http://www.ingress.com and exchange your email for an invitation
2. Add Brandon Badger on Google Plus (product manager of Niantic Labs), create something to prove why you’re worth an Ingress invitation, and share the post with him by using the hashtag #ingressinvite.