All posts by dnorman

on ingress as gamifying network location reporting

Jason tuned me into Ingress at CNIE 2014. There’s a good overview of the game on Wired.

It’s one of those things that sound unbelievably geeky – it’s like geocaching (a geeky repurposing of multibillion dollar GPS satellites to play hide and seek) combined with capture the flag, combined with realtime strategy games, bundled up as a mobile game app (kind of geeky as well), with a backstory of a particle collider inadvertently leading to the discovery of a new form of matter and energy (particle physics? a little geeky). It’s the kind of thing where peoples’ faces glaze over on the first description of portals and XM points, and resonators and links and fields.

IngressIntelScreenshot

One thing that’s been stuck in the back of my head as I worked my way up to Level 5 Nerd of the Resistance in the game, is the lack of an apparent business model. It’s a global-scale game, with thousands? millions? of users checking in from all around the world. There don’t appear to be ads in the game – I’ve never seen any – and there appears to be an unwritten rule that portals should be publicly accessible. That unwritten rule largely negates a business model that would have businesses pay for placement in the game in order to draw customers into their stores etc…

Niantic started the game in 2013, and launched it under the “release it free so we build a user base, then sell the company” business plan. It worked, as Google bought the company and ramped the game up. It’s now available for both Android and iOS platforms, free of charge, with no advertising or premium subscriptions or in-game purchases.

So, what is Google getting out of it? I think their largest draw is likely in crowdsourced geolocation of networks. They have every Ingress user actively (collectively) wandering the globe, reporting every wireless SSID and cell tower they come across, along with GPS coordinates. The game gently pushes players to stay at the location of a portal, confirming the geolocation and refining precision over time. It’s kind of a genius plan – it is constantly updating Google’s network geolocation database, which can then be used to more accurately track and target all users of the internet for advertising etc…. They’ve turned a bunch of nerd’s nerds into a crowdsourced network geolocation reporting system. And, at Google’s scale, it costs them a pittance to have this system running.

paging the mothership

Ingress’ privacy policy link points to Google’s common privacy policy and TOS web page, which states:

We may collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number). Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account.

and

When you use a location-enabled Google service, we may collect and process information about your actual location, like GPS signals sent by a mobile device. We may also use various technologies to determine location, such as sensor data from your device that may, for example, provide information on nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.

Common TOS for all Google services, but especially relevant in a geolocation-based game that is actively pushing users to wander their neighbourhoods to gather this data and send it back to Google.

If they’d released the app as a “report network locations to improve google’s ad targeting” tool, it would have gotten huge pushback, and not many people would have downloaded it. But, by hiding that function and wrapping an insanely addictive game over top of it, it’s gone viral.

brb. I need to go recharge the portal at the playground down the street…

Brightspace nee Desire2Learn

I’ve been trying to get my head around the reasoning for the corporate rebranding to Brightspace12, and I’m coming up short. I like the name, but it feels like everything they’ve described here at Fusion could have been done under the previous banner of Desire2Learn. I’m more concerned about signs that the company is shifting to a more corporate Big Technology Company stance.

When we adopted D2L, they felt like a teaching-and-learning company. What made them interesting to us is that they did feel like a company that really got teaching and learning. They were in the trenches. They used the language. They weren’t a BigTechCo. But, they were on a trajectory aspiring toward BigTechCo.

Fusion 2013 was held at almost the exact same time that we had our D2L environment initially deployed to start configuration for our migration process. We were able to send a few people to the conference last year, and we all came away saying that it definitely felt more like a teaching-and-learning conference than a vendor conference. Which was awesome.

We’ve been working hard with our account manager and technical account team, and have made huge strides in the last year. We’ve developed a really great working relationship with the company, and I think we’re all benefiting from it. The company is full of really great people who care and work hard to make sure everyone succeeds. That’s fantastic. Lots of great people working together.

But it feels like things are shifting. The company now talks about “enablement” – which is good, but that’s corporate-speak, not teaching-and-learning speak. That’s data.

Fusion 2014 definitely feels more like a vendor conference. I don’t know if we’re just more sensitive to it this year, but every attendee I’ve talked to about it has noticed the same thing. This year is different. That’s data.

As part of the rebranding, Desire2Learn/Brightspace just rebooted their community site – which was previously run within an instance of the D2L Learning Environment (which was a great example of “eating your own dog food”), and now it’s a shiny new Igloo-powered intranet site. They also removed access to the product suggestion platform, which was full of carefully crafted suggestions for improving the products, provided by their most hardcore users.

The rebranded community site looks great, but the years worth of user-provided discussions and suggestions didn’t make the journey to the new home. So, the community now feels like a corporate marketing and communication platform, rather than an actual community because it’s empty. I’m hopeful that there is a plan to bring the content from the actual community forward. The content wasn’t there at launch, and it was about the branding of the site rather than the community. That’s data.

And there are other signs. The relaunched community site is listed under “Community” on the new Brightspace website, broken into “Communities of Practice”:

Screen Shot 2014 07 16 at 8 51 49 AM

The problem is, those aren’t “communities of practice” – they are corporate-speak categories for management of customer engagement. Communities of Practice are something else entirely. I don’t even know what an “Enablement” community is. That’s data.

It feels like the company is trying to do everything, simultaneously. They’re building an LMS / Learning Environment / Integrated Learning Platform, a big data Analytics platform, media streaming platform, mobile applications, and growing in all directions at once. It feels like the corporate vision is “DO EVERYTHING” rather than something more focused. I’m hoping that’s just a communication issue, rather than anything deeper. Which is also data.

They’re working hard to be seen as a Real Company. They’re using Real Company language. They’re walking and talking like a Real Company. Data.

The thing is – they’ve been working on the rebranding for awhile now, and launched it at the conference. The attendees here are likely the primary target of the rebranding, and everyone I talk to (attendees and staff) are confused by it. It feels like a marketing push, and a BigTechCo RealCo milestone. It feels like the company is moving through an uncanny valley – it doesn’t feel like the previous teaching-and-learning company, and it’s not quite hitting full stride as a BigTechRealCo yet.

I really hope that Brightspace steps back from the brink and returns to thinking like a teaching-and-learning company.

  1. this isn’t about the name – personally, I like the new name, and wish they’d used it all along. But the company had built an identity around the previous name for 15 years, and it looks like they decided to throw that all away []
  2. and there’s the unfortunate acronym. 30 seconds after the announcement, our team had already planned to reserve bs.ucalgary.ca []