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.


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.


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…

the death of Google Reader has been greatly exaggerated

Using Marco Arment‘s handy dandy RSS feed-subscribers apache access log processing script, here’s the current breakdown of accesses by known RSS reader applications to my blog since 8am today:


The big spike on the far left? Google Reader. Still counting for almost 77% of RSS-related accesses to my blog. Except no humans can see what it’s still indexing using GReader…

Marco found the same thing on his much-more-widely-read blog.

Google Reader appears to be a zombie process, obediently and tirelessly indexing RSS feeds, oblivious to the fact that nobody will be able to view the product of its work…

Update: Here’s a version with GReader removed:

GReaderRIP withoutGReader

Newsblur (at almost 15% of RSS traffic to my blog), followed by Digg1, Yahoo! Pipes2, etc… The RSS landscape has changed rather dramatically in the last couple of weeks. The long tail of long tail readers…

  1. which used to be dead, but was resurrected by the death of GReader… []
  2. I thought that was dead already… []

reclaim your rss feed reader

So Google is killing Reader:

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favourite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

Translation: Thanks for letting us mine your activity and data for a few years. We’ve decided you just don’t make enough money for us, and we’ve decided to stop using your activity to feed into our search algorithm. You are no use to us anymore. We’re killing Reader. End transmission.

Translation 2: Using a web page to read feeds is emasculating.

I’m not at all surprised by this. (remember iGoogle?)

But there is an easy way to reclaim your feed reader, so nobody can take it away from you, or cripple it, or mine your activities and data.

I switched to Fever˚ a couple of years ago, migrating all of my feeds from Google Reader. And haven’t looked back. It’s not free – it costs a whopping $30 for a license. But the licensing fee goes to support a fantastic developer, and means that there are no ads or data mining or anything skanky.

Here’s my current Fever˚ “Hot” dashboard:

Screen Shot 2013 03 13 at 6 40 39 PM

Here’s my “★★★★★” folder of must-read feeds:

Screen Shot 2013 03 13 at 6 46 31 PM

Here’s my “Photos” folder – mostly from Flickr users, but also people posting photos elsewhere. All in one handy feed display:

Screen Shot 2013 03 13 at 6 47 42 PM

It’s also got a great iOS app, Reeder (which is best on the iPhone – pixel doubled on iPad for some reason).

Screenshot of “hot” items in Reeder on my godphone:


And the five-star feed folder:


You can still “share” items – you can expose an RSS feed for items you star within Fever•, and – wait for it – anyone can subscribe to that feed, using any reader that hasn’t been “sunsetted” by a giant corporation. I display my “shared” items on a page on my blog, powered by a self-hosted instance of Alan’s awesome Feed2JS tool.

It’s my Fever˚. No company can decide to “sunset” it. Well, I guess Shaun can decide to abandon it, but even if that happens, the software is running on my server, so worst case scenario I don’t get updates provided by him (through the fantastic automated software updater, btw).

Anyway. Google kills Reader. Not surprising. If you’re still relying on anything Google provides, it’s now shame on you. Reclaim your stuff.

map war

A quick test, to compare Apple’s Maps app from iOS6 with the new Google Maps iOS app that was released today. All screenshots are roughly centred on the same spot around my office on the UofC campus, taken on a godphone 5.

normal map view. Apple iOS Maps on left, Google iOS Maps on right…

IMG 8852IMG 8851

satellite view, Apple iOS Maps on left, Google iOS Maps on right…

IMG 8853IMG 8855

3D view, Apple iOS Maps on left, Google iOS Maps on right…

IMG 8854IMG 8856

Street View, Apple iOS Maps on left, Google iOS Maps on right…

AppleMapsStreetViewIMG 8857


I just tried out the new PrivacyFix extension, which checks your privacy settings and also estimates how much Facebook and Google make off me each year.

Turns out, my privacy settings are pretty decent already. And, it looks like Google makes less than a dollar per year off me. Facebook makes nothing. The guy that wrote the article on Ars Technica clocks in at $700 per year going to Google, through advertising etc… Wow.

I’m running PrivacyFix, in addition to Ghostery and AdBlock, on all computers that I use.

google encroachment

First, they provided a search engine. Then they monitored every search query, to push ads. Then, they added additional services, including email and RSS, to track everything you read and everyone you know. Then, they added social layers, to track everything you do. Then, they added DNS services, to be able to track everything you read and do, even outside of Google’s suite of monitoring tools aka online services.

Now, they want to lay their own fiber-to-the-home internet service. They say it’s to ensure network neutrality, and to provide a stable alternative to the big telecom companies’ cable and DSL and fiber services. That sounds awesome. Everyone hates the big telecom companies, always screwing us over and gouging us and etc.. etc…

And, hey! Gigabit internet connection! In my home! Holy crap!

But, the voice in my head suggests they also want to be able to monitor everything that everyone reads, knows, does, on any service, anywhere. Because, do no evil. Or something.

This is some scary stuff. We need a separation of church and state. Monitoring/advertising companies should not be in the business of providing infrastructure. Of course, it hasn’t been officially announced. And nobody knows what the terms of the service are. But even just the idea of it kind of makes my skin crawl.

google kills iGoogle (slowly)

the iGoogle service let people put together rich dashboard-style home pages, with widgets sucking data from various places into one handy location. Great stuff. I know lots of people use it as their home page, and use it daily.

But, Google has decided it’s (almost) time to kill it, turning it off in November 2013.

I shifted off of a hosted homepage long ago, because I didn’t like the idea of feeding the tracking databases every time I opened a browser. So I set up a vintage 1997-style static homepage, but with some live data widgets powered by Feed2JS.

Google’s dead-service-walking iGoogle:

My always-on, never-tracking, even-more-useful self-hosted homepage dashboard:

So, the iGoogle shutdown won’t impact me. But, I’m wondering why anyone would come to rely on any Google service. They have a history of killing services that have fallen out of grace with Google Corporate, even if there are still diehard users who have come to depend on them because they are free and Do No Evil. Sketchup comes to mind. Lots of teachers were building stuff with their students in it. Until Google decided it didn’t like it anymore. iGoogle.

From the Techcrunch article, here’s a list of abandoned/killed Google projects:

Google Video, Google Mini, Google Bookmarks Lists, Google Friend Connect, Google Gears, Google Search Timeline, Google Wave, Knol, Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE-C), Aardvark, Desktop, Fast Flip, Google Maps API for Flash, Google Pack, Google Web Security, Image Labeler, Notebook, Sidewiki, Subscribed Links,Google Flu Vaccine Finder, Google Related, Google Sync for BlackBerry, mobile web app for Google Talk, One Pass, Patent Search, Picasa for Linux, Picasa Web Albums Uploader for Mac and Picasa Web Albums Plugin for iPhoto, and all Slide products.

How long until Google Reader is put down (who uses RSS anymore, anyway)? GMail? Google Docs? Search?

google glass(es)

The tech vision video for project glass was released today. The technology looks interesting, if a bit creepy.

But what hits me is that this isn’t about augmenting your reality. It’s about augmenting google’s documentation of everything you do, so they can mine it to sell to advertisers. The implications of a service actively monitoring and interacting and documenting and monetizing everything I do and say are just mind boggling.

And when did dorky glasses become cool again? I got teased relentlessly as a kid for wearing glasses, and now the hipsters want to swoop in and play their indie-music-ukuleles with their dorky vr goggles? I don’t think so.

Update: even better commentary via Joe Stracci, via daringfireball. Creepy stuff. But shiny, in an awkward impossible-to-implement-and-nobody-would-buy-it kind of way…

gruber on control of software vs. privacy

John Gruber, commenting on Dave Winer’s post on why he uses Android rather than iOS:

Fear of Apple is about losing control over the software on our computers. Fear of Google is about losing control over our privacy.

That’s the best, clearest description of the difference I’ve seen. I don’t care what anyone else uses. But I value my privacy more than I value the ability to compile the kernel behind my operating system.

And, I’d also suggest that the control over the software in Android etc… is an illusion for most people. The vast majority of people will not be writing their own software, nor are they going to be compiling anything from source. They’re at the mercy of software developers and corporations just as much as those using non-Open software.

I believe that openness has more do with a person’s ability to do what they want to do, rather than with who gets to compile the software they use. Part of that ability-to-do-what-you-want involves not having to sell your digital soul as part of the process, which is what Google wants you to do.

Google’s creepy invasion

From [Google’s CEO: ‘The Laws Are Written by Lobbyists’ – Derek Thompson – Technology – The Atlantic](http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/10/googles-ceo-the-laws-are-written-by-lobbyists/63908/):

>”Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it,” he said. Google implants, he added, probably crosses that line.
>At the same time, Schmidt envisions a future where we embrace a larger role for machines and technology. “With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches,” he said. “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less now what you’re thinking about.”

[John Gruber’s take](http://daringfireball.net/linked/2010/10/04/schmidt-creepy) is good.

So, we have the largest, most invasive piece of technology ever designed. And it’s run by a guy who openly says he wants to use it to know everything about you, to get inside your head. To profit from leveraging that information to sell you to advertisers.

Why aren’t more people pissed off at Google? Oh. Right. They give us shiny new free baubles on a pretty regular basis. All is forgiven.