Ingress and crowdsourcing civic data

Sometime earlier this year I started playing the smartphone augmented reality game Ingress. It’s basically a giant, global game of capture the flag where two teams fight for control of “portals” which can be anything from street art to historic buildings. The innovative aspect of the game is that it requires you to physically go out into the world and interact with these places – you have to be standing within a few metres of portals to interact with them, and hence the game gets you out of the house and walking around. Although you could play the game as an individual, you quickly come into contact with others on your team to coordinate, and in the process enter into a friendly community.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the game is that quite a bit of it is crowdsourced. People who play the fame (“agents”) go out into the world and submit points of interest (POI) and a photo to the people who make the game, who then after a period of months either accept or reject your submission. You can also submit new photos of existing portals. So over time you gradually see the streets in the game fill up with more and more portals to interact with, and new interesting photos of monuments and buildings etc.

This crowdsourcing aspect of the game got me thinking of the potential for an Ingress-like game for reporting and interacting with real world objects in a way which actually benefits society. In other words, what would happen if you were to create a hybrid of Ingress and fix it apps which many councils around the world already offer for citizens to report on problems in their neighbourhood?

The basic idea would be that you boot up this app on your phone, and are immediately presented with a map of your surroundings – perhaps a few hundred metres in every direction. The data could be pulled from Open Street Map. As you move around, the centre of the map moves and you can see different things. On the map are a number of different POIs – nearby parks, town halls, etc. The types of POI visible could be changed depending on your preferences. The point is that you could select things on the map around your current location to submit to the app as problems (with accompanying photos). E.g. a street light might be out and in need or repair, there might be rubbish everywhere, plants may be overgrown and in need of trimming on public land, there might be grafiti etc. Once your problem has been submitted, it could appear on the map to others who are also around there. Other people could take additional photos, confirm the problem exists, add more details, or report that the problem had already been fixed or did not appear to exist at all.

The possibilities are pretty much limitless in terms of what you could do with an app like this. You could crowdsource photos of monuments, or create missions where people had to do a number of things around the city. I think it would be really good if it was game-ified such that people felt tangible progress as they “played” the game more. It would essentially gamify being a good citizen, and allow councils and governments to have the power of heaps of helpful people all over the place.

Existing apps which allow people to submit problems in the city, are a good start, but I think they could be way better. Obviously it would be a huge amount of work to put something like this together, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

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