Gav's Blog

Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines

What are the ulterior motives of Ingress?

with 3 comments

Ingress screenshot

Ingress screenshot by SonnyandSandy on flickr. CC BY-NC-ND

Since we can’t play Ingress yet, we have to sit back and ponder what it means. Since a lot of us are not yet able to play Ingress, all we can do is sit back, and dissect it, and ruminate. Some of my initial wondering included…

Wouldn’t it be cunning if Google was using the placement of #Ingress game elements in the real world to undertake distributed #crowdsourced #mapping eg track logging pathways, roads, POIs etc? All speculative as I have an iPhone and I don’t believe Ingress has been opened to #NewZealand yet ;)

As I noted in my earlier article, Ingress has a partner ‘real world’ application called Field Trip that highlights interesting points-of-interest. These historical POIs appear to have been used by Google/Niantic to pre-populate the Ingress portal database. And Ingress portal submissions are like to result in more than just new Ingress portals, but I’d suggest we will also see them in Field Trip. But I’m sure that is only the start.

The trip data collected by Google whilst playing the game is likely to be used to improve their mapping data, well, as much as smartphone GPS accuracy will allow ;) This means that public walkways and tracks will eventually be mapped as we walk and cycle them collecting ‘XM’. The accuracy of a single smartphone is unlikely to be useful, but if multiple Ingress players trek over the same paths, then over time, probability says that they will likely create a fairly accurate breadcrumb trail of the path.

I’m definitely not the first to come up with this, a few others have similarly suggested on Reddit and  techgoondu that Ingress is being used as a vehicle to crowdsource things such as walking and cycling directions to improve Google Maps. As a geocacher, I’ve long known that the path between any two geocaches would create a route, that even in my home town, will include streets new to me. So, Ingress is likely to take advantage of this feature of location-based activity. Create various waypoints, encourage people to travel between them, and track them, and use the resulting data to improve the accuracy and data of maps.

But it goes further. Think about Google Glass for a minute. Here we have a project designed to be worn, and for augmented reality. Google’s main revenue source is advertising. What if where this is all heading towards advertising in an augmented reality world? Sure, games like Ingress would be brilliantly fun play in AR with a smartphone and Google Glass, but I’m guessing that Google really wants to get to the point where the likes of Google Glass can be used to display AR adverts whilst you’re walking to work, or going for a jog, or even out sightseeing. Google’s advertising revenue is limited to when we’re at home, or at work, and tied to a computer. Well, Google Glass would allow Google to present adverts overlaid on the real world.

Of course, it won’t just be advertising. Field Trip clearly indicates that Google Glass will be used to display interesting point-of-interest information, so it will be a great tool for traveling and sightseeing.

But Google needs a lot more data about the real world, and to maintain that data, to be able to augment it with advertising and useful information. And that is where Google Maps, Map Maker, Ingress, Field Trip, Places, Street View all come together to build up Google’s underlying data view of the world.

I still think it is pretty darn cool that they are using a game to crowdsource this geospatial information though!

Written by Gavin Treadgold

December 2nd, 2012 at 6:13 pm