Think you can afford to not understand Gamification? Good luck…

scvngrWhy did Seth Priebatsch garner so much attention with his keynote speech on Gamification at SXSWi in Austin this year? At a conference where everyone agrees it is becoming increasingly difficult to break through the noise at all anymore no less.

Why? Because Gamification has not only been one of the trend words of 2010/11 in tech, but also one of the very real trends in the actual designs of user experiences/user interfaces (UX/UI).

Here are some key excerpts from a great recent post, The Gamification of Life, the Universe and Everything by Allan Patrick:

As the first “Gamification” workshop in London was held today, I thought it might be interesting to look at this rather fascinating Fortune article about Seth Priebatsch who:

…sensed something three years ago that most of the rest of us did not: that a generation raised on video games would want to keep playing a game in real life. “I found out that basically the real world was essentially the same game as Civilization [an old computer game], just with slightly better graphics… and slightly slower.”

[…] “I have a much broader definition of game than most other people,” he says, explaining that games are just systems of challenges, rewards, and biases.

So it turns out that a lot of this straight-up Behaviorist thinking is very important in the development of technology, more important than most people realized before the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, and more important than most of us would like to admit to ourselves. Because… well… we like tho think of ourselves as more evolved than simple stimulus/response “machines”.

But the fact is that whenever a game or game-like structure is presented to people, people as human beings will tend to play them. This fact is of course much older than Social Media, or than the above-mentioned computer games, though Seth may be right that the acceptance of game mechanics in all manner of contexts could have only gone up, not down, from these societal developments.

In fact, The Wall Street Journal wrote recently that “some analysts claim 50% of businesses will be gamified by 2015”!

One recent example of what I call an “indirect game mechanic” is the Twitter “follower count game”, which a lot of people were “playing” rather vigorously ca. 2009-2010. The fact that this count metric is presented front-and-center on the services main user pages, keeping score like a pinball machine, enticed users to jump through all sorts of hoops in their quest to gain more followers.

But even the micro-blogging activity itself on Twitter could be described as having game-like aspects, because 1) the activity is short and regulated (the 140 character limit on Twitter had more implications than people realized).

And 2), there are instant feedback loops such as the tweet count (“score”) going up, your tweet becoming an instantly visible “result” in your and other people’s update stream, and further intermittent/irregular-schedule feedback by other people responding to your tweets, or passing them on as Retweets.

Twitter’s @ mentions tab is the Behaviorist’s irregular reward-schedule mechanism of sorts, because we are literally pre-programmed to check for our reciprocal attention “reward” often. Behaviorists such as Skinner and Pavlov figured out long ago that such an “irregular reward schedule” was the most reinforcing of all.

So it comes as no surprise that the micro-blogging activity has become so self-reinforcing (in other words: addictive) for a lot of people, that they do things subsumed under it that they heretofore shunned. For example, doing a form of short-burst knowledge management (KM) inside of corporate organizations or more loosely-based interest groups.

Twitter clones like Yammer and SalesForce.com’s Chatter have sprung up since 2009 that propose to piggy-back on these effects, and are creating real changes to internal information flow and exchange: It turns out that with all previous iterations of corporate KM attempts, people were simply not incentivized in a way that “made them” actually do the desired activity…

Here’s a key quote I curated in 2009:

[W]hoever acquires Twitter will in essence take possession of an army of… tens of millions… of humans who are actively, accurately, and enthusiastically meta-tagging pages. In the arena of human-augmented search, Mahalo is a useful wheelbarrow, while Twitter is a fleet of 747 cargo planes.

The key word here is “enthusiastically”… why? Why is anyone enthusiastic? In large part due to the underlying gamification “rewards” as described above!

It is very important to understand all of this if you want to think yourself into the “games” of current and future social media. As Allan Patrick states:

The trend will be to build in more gamification by adding in more games for people to play:

– There are no badges and mayorships in SCVNGR [Priebatsch’s own gamified geo-location-based service similar to Foursquare]. There are points, and you get these points by not just checking-in, but also by doing various crowd-generated “challenges” while you’re at the place you’re at. […]

– He started a pilot program in Boston and Philadelphia that gives users better and better deals as people continue to come back to a restaurant. “Pure [geo] checking-in isn’t going mainstream,” he says, and is working on a Groupon-Gamification called Level-Up […]

There is no doubt that the “white hat” attraction of Gamification is to get people more hooked on your online businesses rather than the competitor’s, and also […] the “black hat” attraction of getting your hands on more of people’s personal data, the New New Gold.

I would have to agree. Some of it will be explicit, in the form of games that are identified as such. But much of it will be more implicit, or “invisible game mechanics” not consciously perceived as real games, but of game-like character.

And either way these will get you and hundreds of millions of other people online to do certain activities, billions of times a month. Still think you can afford to not understand Gamification?

Are the New York Times’ reports of the Death of Blogging greatly exaggerated?

rip“Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter” claims a recent article in the New York Times, based on some statistics gather by Pew Center research that appear to show a percentage decline in self-identified bloggers among the younger age groups, and stagnation among the more middle-aged set.

Is Blogging dying, or at least on the decline?

The article has sparked a good bit of debate, prompting e.g. GigaOM to retort: “Blogging Is Dead Just Like the Web Is Dead .”

But rather than latch on to the specifics of some percentage gains or losses, that may well be semantically arguable as pointed out in the Times piece, I believe the key quote to be this:

Former bloggers said they were too busy to write lengthy posts and were uninspired by a lack of readers. Others said they had no interest in creating a blog because social networking did a good enough job keeping them in touch with friends and family.

Which is both an argument for the type of Curation-plus-commentary-plus-community activity I’ve been advocating for on my current “mini-blogging” platform of choice, Amplify.com, as well as apt to highlight what I have come to call “the Content Creator’s Plight” or Dilemma (I’ve been cooking up a longer, substantive post on this for a few months, but ironically always find myself dragged in other directions…):

It is difficult enough to keep up with our 21st century information “maelstrom” to begin with. And to arrest the flow of the real-time Web long enough in one’s mind to write much of substance on rapidly emergent, “newsy” topics, so that a post might persist in providing value for longer than a day or two. The other day I curated a post that aptly coined the term “content decay” in this regard.

In a way, it represents a massive act of will, especially in the face of what is now a fair number of professional “blogging machines” (like Techcrunch), that do nothing else.

Now add to that the fact that without already having sufficiently large, built-in audience, which very few bloggers ultimately achieve, the motivation for these “acts of will” is very quickly used up… Notice the second sentence in the above quote, which points out that many find such a built-in audience, and hence at least perceived affirmation, on their social networks of choice.

A service like Amplify, and intelligent curation tools in general, can solve at least the first issue, and while many of its curation peers are neglecting the community/conversation angle, this is where Amplify ultimately shines in solving the second problem to some extent as well.

Going back to the original question, one could say that blogging is most definitely evolving, though also certainly still alive and well:

[B]logging is not so much dying as shifting with the times. Entrepreneurs have taken some of the features popularized by blogging and weaved them into other kinds of services.

Ultimately, people are still expressing themselves online, in however long or short a form (though the trend has certainly gone toward the Twitter- or SMS-like micro-blogging), and the main differences are merely the User Interface (UI) metaphors used.

For example, Amplify has been wrestling with the issues of providing easy-to-use, elegant metaphors, while still maintaining a modicum of depth and relevance for conversation. Bigger services such as Tumblr (another mini-blogging tool) or Twitter have grown so rapidly precisely due to the extreme, push-button simplicity with which content could be created or curated, and passed along socially.

As I’ve argued before, Simplicity Wins, but there is also a fine line to walk to provide both simplicity, as well as still allow for the depth that at least some of us crave.

Possible Branding Dangers for Twitter’s new Promoted Trends Ads?

SCap_ 2010-06-17_14Twitter has started selling spots on its right sidebar “Trending Topics”, so-called Promoted Trends. Toy Story 3 is the first test candidate, as can be seen on the right:

When clicked, it takes you to the same Twitter Search (internal) view for that keyword phrase as any other Trending Topic would, only now the top tweet is the “Sponsored Tweet”, which presumably also comes up if you were to type in the search yourself.

So far, so good, as this set-up folds in the ad as unobtrusively as possible into the user experience, a feat that Mashable’s Pete Cashmore called ingenious in a CNN.com post he wrote about the new system.

I’d point out that while it may be necessary to do things this way, there is likely a reduction in response, i.e. the click-through on the actual ad, which represents the second click already. As a rule of thumb, assume 50% drop in response for any additional step in your Web efforts).

And Twitter will likely play things close to the vest as far as additional click results from the Retweets that can happen around the Sponsored Tweet, so we won’t know whether that alone can make the considerable cost of the promoted trends/sponsored tweets worthwhile.

But the real problem is this. Look at what can show up right below the promoted tweet, based on Twitter’s own Retweet-count-based popularity surfacing:

SCap_ 2010-06-18_20

Probably NOT the brand experience that Pixar was aiming for. The tweet by movie critic Roger Ebert might only cost some 3D revenue, but the 4th tweet is slightly reminiscent of the PR disaster (around larbor/fair trade) for Nestle on Facebook some weeks back.

As you can see, that tweet may very well have gone nearly as viral as the promoted one! Definitely food for thought as brands shift more and more advertising online and into social media.

One bonus oddity I recorded from Twitter yesterday: Due to the instability of the platform during the massive World Cup server and internal data center network loads, Twitter has shut down the Profile Cards, and Geo-Location pop-up functionality to lighten that load. As well as intermittently, the Trending Topics…so that only the “promoted trend” was left in the sidebar:

SCap_ 2010-06-18_18

Harmless for now, but user annoyance might grow if this were to continue. Either way, we can say that Twitter’s Status Blog has been busy again…