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A Niantic veteran returns as its new director of web3

Niantic wants a taste of that non-fungible crypto pie.

Niantic has announced the re-hiring of Chikai Ohazama, a former Niantic director of product management who's been away from the company for a few years, most recently building tech in the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrency.

Ohazama will serve as director of web3, and in a series of tweets, said that he looks forward to "helping the company navigate their way through the world of web3 and working to bring them in as an authentic and welcomed member of the web3 community." He also stated that he's worked out a deal with Niantic that will let him continue his work on NFT projects like Monolith Gallery.

The rest of his tweets reflected on his history with the company, which goes all the way back to the company known as "Keyhole" that Google purchased in 2004.

Keyhole was co-founded by Ohazama and Niantic founder John Hanke. The pair would become part of the team that created Google Maps, and would part ways as Hanke built Niantic as a startup inside of Google, while Ohazama went out to wander the world of entrepreneurship. 

Some of Niantic's recent business moves have felt very in-touch with the recent cryptocurrency craze and Silicon Valley dreams of an interconnected "metaverse." In November 2021, it raised $300 million in investments to create a "real-world metaverse" (seems contradictory, I know) and its recently announced game Peridots features unique collectible creatures that don't feel far off from the crypto world's interest in unique avatars that resemble fictional creatures.

(To be crystal clear, Niantic has not stated as to whether or not Peridots will use Blockchain technology). 

There's also something telling about Ohazama's stated intent to welcome Niantic into the web3 world. Lately, we've heard a lot of sturm and drang about web3 needing to go mainstream, but these comments seem to identify it as a niche community that interacts with large corporations with some suspicion. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Ohazama's role as being "president" of web3 at Niantic. He is in fact, director of web3. 

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