As I type, Pokémon GO is drawing flocks of smartphone-wielding teens and young adults to unconventional locations across the country. The app-based augmented reality game is being hailed as everything from a fitness breakthrough to a sign of the end times, and has even led to robberies, injuries, and the discovery of a dead body.
In the short time since its release last Wednesday, the app has surpassed WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat in time spent on the app, and is neck-and-neck with Twitter for daily active users. Keep in mind that the app is still only officially available in the US, Australia and New Zealand!
Many are actively concerned about the huge amounts of data – where users are going, how fast they’re getting there, what they do along the way – Pokémon GO will generate. This, regardless of the fact that Google could probably answer these questions without any hesitation as you set up an appointment on your Google Calendar, sync the reminder to your mobile phone, look up directions to your destination on Google Maps… you get the point.
Perhaps the most revealing case for how this data will be use by Pokémon GO’s creators, Niantic, Inc., is what they did with a similar data set a few years ago. Niantic, run by veterans of Google Earth and Google Maps, is the same company behind 2011’s Ingress, another location-based exergame. A revolutionary result of, and later, method of data collection in its own right, Ingress attracts users to “portals,” sites such as public art pieces and historical markers extrapolated from geotagged photos on Google Earth. While the initial sites were determined entirely by Niantic, users were encouraged to submit further sites for consideration. Approximately 15 million sites were suggested by Ingress’s global community of users, and a further 5 million portals have been approved to-date.
It was the data behind these portals that ultimately determined the location of the “PokéStops” in Pokémon GO. Using undisclosed methods, Niantic used portal locations, Google Earth, and data on climate, roadways and urban mapping to determine which Pokémon should appear where.
Their methods weren’t foolproof. One man’s home, an old church, was a popular site on Ingress, turning it into a “Pokémon Gym” on Pokémon GO, where users are rewarded for “battling” one another for the ownership and prestige of the location. He woke up last Saturday morning to a crowd of people outside his front door.
Technological flaws aside, the app has activated (literally) an entire community of enthusiasts, and is poised to gather huge amounts of data on user location and movement patterns. With plans to introduce community-based Pokémon trading and even wearables, it’s clear the creators have no intention of slowing down. And this is great for business.
A great case is Fasten, the Boston-based rideshare company who is now offering $5 rides to anyone who is picked up and dropped off at a PokéStop. Many drivers have been teaming up with friends or paid “Pokémon Drivers” to chauffeur them from PokéStop to PokéStop. Given the insatiable demand for Pokémon and the population’s growing dependence on rideshares, Fasten’s pioneering move is nothing short of brilliant.
Local shops, restaurants and community centers stand to benefit from their newfound status as PokéStops, attracting users – and potential customers – through little effort of their own. Other locations not designated as PokéStops can purchase “lures,” attracting virtual Pokémon to their locations for users to capture. Businesses can also use the app as a gateway to engage with their customers directly, requesting information on the types of virtual Pokémon caught at or near the location. This information, particularly the “rarity” of the virtual Pokémon captured at their site, can easily be deployed as an advertising tool. Furthermore, as teams and communities coalesce around local Pokémon Gyms, nearby meeting places such as bars or restaurants could brand themselves as hotspots as potential meeting places for users.
This model can easily be extended to fan engagement at at sports events, music festivals, and conferences. Because smartphone GPS systems function better while connected to wifi, many app users may justify exchanging their identifying information, such as names and email addresses, to connect and log in. Beacons and wifi could then be used to track fan movement and indicate hotspots of user activity. Not only would you know more about who attended your event, you would know exactly where they went and what they did.
Finally, since most app users (and, let’s face it, most people) will be constantly checking their smart phones anyway, it provides savvy marketers with countless opportunities to collect valuable data through online and on-site fan engagement. If you can get them to stop searching for Pokémon, that is.
To view the original post, please visit Forbes.com.