Imagine the conviction it would take to leave a prominent position at one of the largest tech companies, Google, to pursue your own ideas. Now, imagine that said tech company rewrote their rule book just to keep you on board. This describes John Hanke, and how his newest startup Niantic opened their doors and began to explore an emerging niche.
Niantic began in 2012 with a focus on location based augmented reality. The company started with a product, Field Papers, and a value proposition that they would change how they monetized the app. Rather than add placement or in app purchases, they looked at how to market directly through the narrative of their app (think product placement for apps). Their second app was a game called Ingress, which has become something of a phenomenon, with over 7 million players globally. Niantic is soon to release their 3rd title, Pokemon GO, which will be among the first Nintendo Games created for non-Nintendo hardware.
If you teach Geography, you have been touched by John Hanke’s previous products. After University, John worked in Foreign Affairs with the US Government. He established connections to the CIA, and noticed trends in spatial visualization that would go mainstream. Hanke founded Keyhole, Inc. and created the forerunner to Google Earth. After Google purchased Keyhole in 2004, Hanke went on to run Google’s Geo division (Maps, Streetview, Sketchup, Google Earth). By 2010, John was ready to move on, as he had vision for new projects which he felt would be lower priority if he stayed in Google. Rather than lose a brilliant employee, Google established an internal startup called Niantic, allowing them function essentially as a completely autonomous company. However, they were able to leverage the huge resources Google had to ensure their ambitious project would function well. The growing team of 41 employees is efficient and spends nearly all their time on product development, compared to other teams at Google which may spend up to 30% on processes.
Niantic does not focus on education specifically, but there is some really strong connections to it. Players of Ingress commonly state that the game has exposed them to the history of their area, and brought greater appreciation for where they live. Location based augmented reality fits in nicely with BYOD, crowd sourcing, game based learning, and many other emerging trends in educational technology. How amazing would it be to have students using field trips to fulfill challenges of a game, all while taking in the rich experiential opportunities field trips can provide?
FastCompany – Can a Startup Live Inside Google?
Making Games – Reality as a Virtual Playground
Huffington Post – Mobile Tech (and Society) on the Verge of Another Giant Leap: Ingress
The Chronicle of Higher Education – Google’s Ingress and Location Based Learning