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SCVNGR: Digital Rubber Hits the Literal Road

Cross-posted from the blog of a soon-to-be Digital Natives summer intern—Nikki Leon, from Princeton.
Welcome to the team, Nikki! Original version, with links, here.

Seth Priebatsch is pretty damn smart — and I’m not just saying that because he’s a Princeton Engineer. This afternoon, with the help of computer programmers (and fellow Princeton frosh) Josh Budofsky and Val Karpov, Priebatsch launched the first-ever SCVNGR hunt. SCVNGR hunt is a new kind of treasure hunt that combines the immediacy (and product promo potential) of mobile technology with the running, clue-solving, and team play of a traditional scavenger hunt. There were over a hundred players — Princeton students participating both alone and in teams — who registered by texting to the designated SCVNGR short code. They then received various clues urging them to go to specific locations on the Princeton campus and/or to send back a txt or picture (snapped on their phones, no less) containing the solution to a given clue. Prizes included a Nintendo Wii, gift certificates, and, of course, a free hat.

SCVNGR (Priebatsch’s startup, which hosted the SCVNGR hunt) is remarkable because it is representative of two New Media trends. The first of these is a shift towards using mobile technology to link digital interaction to a specific location in order to foster more personal, face-to-face contact. This trend has already been evinced by a few digital signage firms. Among these is LocaModa, a Cambridge, MA company that provides the technology for people to interact on large screens in public places with their mobile phones (in February, they launched a giant digital word game called Jumbli on a screen in Times Square). The second trend SCVNGR indicates is simply that of the rise of the “Digital Native” (i.e. those of us raised in an already-digital world). Most notably, Priebatsch, Budofsky, and Karpov are not just digesting pre-existing digital content, but they are expanding platforms for new content as well.

SCVNGR gives me hope for the Digital Native. The group’s efforts seem to counteract the one thing that has always bothered me about “DNs” (and I am definitely one myself): DNs’ very ease with and dependance on digital media makes them especially vulnerable to the tricks of advertisers and other profit-interested businesspeople of a slightly older generation. This is because the web is a platform like no other for tracking personal data and launching complex adver-experiences. Examples of this are product sponsored online advergames like the Coke Zero Game; info-snooping, advertiser-oriented apps like Facebook’s Beacon; and the strange quasi-webseries / quasi-social-network quarterlife, which features plenty of product placement. SCVNGR, however, is a sign that Digital Natives are gaining the ability to cater to each other and not just be catered to (and manipulated). Granted, SCVNGR is for-profit, and Priebatsch is a shrewd businessman whose prior experience in the digital postcard business shows: after my 90 minutes of SCVNGR participation, I was rewarded with a coupon to a local ice cream shop. All the same, the fact that a fellow DN is behind both the promo and the game makes me somewhat more comfortable — it’s a sign that the process of creating digital content has been democratized.

I have no doubt that SCVNGR will be successful, though to what degree I can’t predict. SCVNGR, or at least its concept, has already seen approval: in February, Priebatsch won the TigerLaunch Business Plan Competition with his plans for the startup. Using their new funding, Priebatsch, Budofsky, and Karpov are relocating SCVNGR to Philadelphia this summer and will have some new additions to the company.

There’s no website yet, but check out the SCVNGR hunt event on facebook, and an article in the Daily Princetonian.