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Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Future of Social Software

"I still think that reputation and game mechanics are the future of social software."

- Tweet by Paul Pedrazzi, VP, Strategy & Innovation at Oracle Corporation

by Hutch Carpenter

The Future of Social Software - Reputation and Game MechanicsWhat an intriguing, and provocative, statement by Paul Pedrazzi. At first blush, I can hear your thoughts... "What? C'mon!" Which is exactly how most innovations start.

The reason it's provocative is that business is serious... business. And that goes for social software as well. Anything that smacks of addressing intrinsic human behaviors and motivations is suspicious on arrival for some. Just make my job efficient so I can get home.

But Paul's opinion is valid, and holds a lot of merit. The issue of creating collaborative tools has mostly been solved. Not solved as in finished in terms of innovation, but solved meaning the basics of easy posting, making content sharable and searchable, and connecting with others are done. These are the table stakes for any social software.

What's emerging on the social landscape is the notion of making contributions and sharing part of a richer, more engaging experience.

What Foursquare Is Teaching Us

Foursquare is a fast-rising social network site where users check-in from whatever location they're at. The table stakes aspect is the ability to find friends that are in a same location, and to be aware of where people have visited for future reference (e.g. when you need a recommendation). This by itself provides the core utility of the site. Similar to the core utilities of social software, as mentioned above.

But Foursquare is even better known for its game mechanics. The site has compelling attributes:
  • Points - vary by type of activity
  • Leaderboards - see who's on top
  • Badges - for a wide variety of activities
  • Mayors - the top person checking in to a location

News flash! Turns out people like lighthearted competition, status, recognition and earning awards. Integrating these as a part of the experience, not as the entire experience, is a powerful basis for increasing people's awareness and interest in a particular activity.

Game Mechanics 101

Indeed, Amy Jo Kim makes this very point. Kim holds a PhD in behavioral neuroscience, and is CEO of Shufflebrain, builders of smart games for social networks. She has helped design social games and social architecture for such companies as Electronic Arts, Digital Chocolate, Viacom, eBay and Yahoo!

In an interview on Mixergy, she makes the following observation about metagames:

"A metagame uses feedback like the kind of feedback you might see in games, statistics, a that kind of stuff. Plus rewards, which are badges and leaderboards and points and prizes and all different kinds of things that are carrots that you dangle in front of people to get them to continue to perform behaviors. Again, I want to emphasize, effective metagame design supports the reason people are there already. It doesn't distract them from it. It supports it."

This is not tacking on metagames for the sake of instantly being fun. It's metagames that are considered in the light of what the business objectives are.

Kim also discusses two types of points approaches:
  • System points
  • Social points

System points are those a user earns through direct interaction with the system. Straight activity incentives. These have their place in any social software.

Social points are where it gets more interesting. These "are points that you amass as people react to things you've done. A reputation system is based on social points-other people's reactions to what you have done." This approach is a terrific blend of rewarding quality activity, because the community is the one that determines the value.

There are rating systems in place with social software now, but few have formalized that into game mechanics.

Finally, Kim relates five game mechanics that are "particularly useful for social software and web services. They're useful, they're low hanging fruit, they're predictable. There's a lot more sophisticated things you can do, but these five are a great place to start."
  1. Earning points: anything that looks like points, smell like points, cracks like points, you know, is going to be points.

  2. Collecting mechanic: The game mechanic of collecting is very main stream. Very familiar to people. You amass collections.

  3. Feedback: Feedback keeps you on the road to mastery. It tells you if you're on the right track. It helps you get better like a great coach. That's what great feedback does.

  4. Taking turns: Taking turns or exchanges is the shorthand I use for that. So this fundamental feeling of taking turns, playing chess is taking turns, having a conversation is taking turns, many games have this back and forth of taking turns. What's important about this mechanic is that it can be implicit or explicit. And it creates social capital.

  5. Customization: Any time you have a rich profile you can decorate. Go look at people's profiles. They kinda look like games. There's badges you're collecting, they're very rich. All that kind of customization was really pioneered by games. And thinking about how to allow people to customize their experience is much more what's traditionally been in the gamer dynamic.

Some good thoughts on game mechanics and social software.

Mixing Fun with Achievement

MIT professor and Enterprise 2.0 leader and thinker Andrew McAfee wrote a post asking, "Should Knowledge Workers Have Enterprise 2.0 Ratings?" The focus of the article was on making measurement an integral part of the motivation for employees to use social software:

"And imagine further that the leaders of the organization are sincerely interested in pursuing Enterprise 2.0 and getting their people to actually use the new tools. What would they then do? What would be their smart course(s) of action?

Virtually everyone agrees that coaching, training, explaining, and leading by example would be appropriate and beneficial activities. But what about measuring? It's a technical no-brainer to measure how much each individual has contributed and to generate some kind of absolute or relative metric. Would doing so be helpful or harmful?"

In the graphic below from his post, you can see an example of how these measurement might look:

Andrew McAfee Radar ChartWhy not turn this into something fun? Or are dry Excel spreadsheet the only approach? McAfee's proposal is one of measuring and motivating. Well, as Amy Jo Kim notes above, game mechanics are terrific way to integrate such an objective into an engaging experience. For example:
  • Positive feedback = reputation score

  • Authoring = activity currency

  • Interacting = collaborator badge

Pedrazzi's tweet makes a lot of sense. We're naturally competitive, and achievements and recognition have always part of work life. Adding fun, social feedback and an achievement orientation becomes a key differentiator for companies. Integrating these dynamics into a collaborative, emergent, results-oriented culture is a clear winner.

We'll leave it with this perspective from Dachis Group's Bryan Menell:

"What better way to change behavior than to introduce elements of gaming and competitiveness? Think of the Foursquare leaderboard. Everybody wants to see their name in the Top 10...

Applications like Foursquare and Gowalla are in their infancy, but it is this type of technology, attention to culture and behavior change, combined with support for processes that will help organizations become more socially calibrated.

The way that we work, interact, and reward people in the enterprise of tomorrow will be very different. How likely is your organization to adopt similar concepts?"

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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Blogger Fredrik Matheson said...

Thanks for an interesting summary, Hutch. are you familiar with Peter Reiser's Community Equity framework?

Its mechanisms include some of the same metagame and contributor rankings as you mention here.

1:00 AM  
OpenID talentedapps said...

Excellent, Hutch! Your point about "...addressing intrinsic human behaviors..." is vital regarding social software. It basically translates to: "If you aren't ready to address human behaviors, you probably aren't going to get the same value from social software that others will who are ready." As David Armano put it so well, "...this isn't a technological issue. It's an anthropological one. Businesses that are looking to benefit from social technologies are going to need better and more intimate understandings of the people and cultures of those they hope will leverage their services."

So back to games and measurement. I think that games will be an important part of the future of social software. In particular, I like the metagame approach as I think direct competitive measures such as what McAfee was floating can have reverse effects from what you intended. But I see games and metagames as a part of a larger set of ways to influence (not manipulate!) behavior. As Paul's quote also says, reputation is another part. Peer support (a benevolent form of peer pressure) is another.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that because of the vast differences in motivations, needs, capabilities, etc. of actual and potential participants, there will have to be a wide range of influence mechanisms.


1:16 AM  
Blogger Shulkin said...

Hutch, timing is everything...I've been thinking about reputation points as well. Here's Friday's thoughts: http://bit.ly/cykFCg

4:10 PM  

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