I admit it: I am a total gamer nerd. So when I heard about the new walking game Ingress that Google was putting out, my Pavlovian response immediately kicked in. I had to play it. After posting my plea to Google+, Google’s Brian Rose took pity on me and kicked me out an invite.
On first playing, my reaction was pure awe. Ingress is a sci-fi conspiracy game played in the real world by walking around and interacting with the local landscape and other players. The first time I opened it, I ended up on an unplanned two mile walk around the neighborhood.
After some analysis, a second realization hit me: Google has done it once again.
See, everything Google develops is an answer to a problem. Back when they were just a search juggernaut looking for ways to refine their user data, they came up with a brilliant idea: what if we offered a better email service in exchange for the ability to gather targeted contextual information to improve our ad offerings? From that question, Gmail was born, and grew to be the most popular free webmail service online. It did so by providing a continuously improved user experience, first with the advent of email “conversation” threads, and then with integration of each of Google’s cloud services as they were developed.
Google+ answered the question of how to get social signaling relevance in search values. By socializing and unifying their cloud services platform, they are able to tie in social behaviors to help rank the organic value of content. This is also why unlike Facebook, G+ is thankfully ad free. Because it’s not a stand alone product, but rather a tool in the overall Google environment, it doesn’t have revenue as a requirement. It provides a massive value add to existing revenue generation systems.
Ingress is also the answer to a question: how do we get users to help improve what is already the best mapping system available? With the release of Ingress, tens of thousands of formerly couch locked nerds (such as myself) are now gleefully clocking miles on their pedometers, walking back alleys and park paths with a GPS device recording the entire trip. While Google’s map cars have gone everywhere that can be driven, Google now has their users filling in the gaps between streets.
At the end of the day, this more than anything else is the genius of Google: they inspire their audience to enthusiastically participate in an opt-in experience which would be considered massively intrusive by anyone else, or presented in any other way. They look at problems as opportunities which their users can help solve if given sufficient incentive, and that incentive is generally an enhanced user experience or new service. This commitment to balance between company goals and user needs is why Google has developed such a large and active fan base, and drives exciting innovations like Google Glass and Ingress (and oh my god, you know these two concepts are going to be merged at some point *nerdgasm*).
Oh, and if you’re playing, keep an eye out for MrDubious. #resistance
Edit: Wow! Thanks for all the love, everyone! You’ve had my very awesome web host hustling trying to keep up with the traffic.
Edit 2: If you’re here looking for Ingress invites, come on over to r/Ingress.