Gamification: services and libraries

Lorcan 3 min read

I have been interested to see more notes in my tweetstream about peoples’ exercise or diet regimes. They are typically generated by network services as a by-product of some activity, running or cycling, for example, and are part of a motivating framework. The Withings bathroom scale is connected to the network, allows you to set goals and to record and access weight and other data, as well as optionally communicating progress by tweeting your weight. In a similar vein, I recently came across – “the smartest way to set and achieve your goals”.

If you’re ready to turn that goal into an accomplishment, you’re ready for stickK.
stickK was founded on the principle that creating incentives and assigning accountability are the two most important keys to achieving a goal. Thus, the “Commitment Contract” was born.

These are all examples of the growth of gamification as a design principle, the application of game mechanics to services and systems., a company aimed at reducing corporate healthcare costs by improving employee wellness, puts the ‘power of play’ at the centre of its method:

Keas is a social game that that promotes employee wellness. Employees form teams and earn points by making healthy choices each week, like eating better, exercising more, or even getting more sleep. Teams participate in wellness challenges and whoever gets the most points wins!

Keas is especially interesting because its co-founder and CTO is the distinguished Adam Bosworth, who made major contributions to products and to general internet technologies while at Microsoft and BEA, before joining Google to work on Google Health.
Bosworth wrote about gamification and Keas on Techcrunch recently. He quickly identified three major inflection points in the development of computer and network technologies, each bringing about an order of magnitude increase in participation: the emergence of the PC, the emergence of the GUI, and the emergence of the web and mobile phones. The next inflection point, he suggested, was not about numbers but about engagement. Engagement is a central aspect of gamification, and is integral to the examples I gave above. Bosworth points to a gamification site which carries this definition: “Gamification is the integration of Game Mechanics and game-thinking in non-game environments to boost Engagement, Loyalty and Fun!”.
He argues that inside the term ‘gamification’ are three important truths. First, social gaming changes engagement in “deep and dramatic ways” by appealing to the “primitive brain in all of us that wants constant rewards, social recognition and adventure”. Second, gamification will accelerate the move from physical to digital. He suggests that Groupon has shown that people like the juxtaposition of shopping and games, and that bricks-and-mortar shopping will have to become more fun if it is to slow the trend to online. And third, he forecasts the complete replacement of PCs by mobile devices within 10 years, noting that “social games lend themselves to this form factor and this form factor is location-aware and constantly with you”.
He concludes with an interesting message to developers:

We used to teach information design. Then we taught UI design and UI interaction. But now it will be game mechanics. Within two years (if not already), lack of understanding appointment mechanics, game mechanics and leveling will be as crippling to someone who aspires to design online solutions as it is today for someone who doesn’t understand HTML and CSS and AJAX and JQuery.

Most of the examples above draw from health care and wellness, but we can see these techniques in widespread use. The Gamification website, mentioned above, has a variety of examples from different industries.
I was wondering whether such approaches were feasible in a library environment when I came across Lemon Tree, a project at the University of Huddersfield in the UK.

Lemon Tree seeks to increase the use of library resources through a social, game based elearning platform. Users will register with the system and be able to earn points and rewards for interacting with library resources, such as leaving comments and reviews of library books. Integration with other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook will be built into the system.

There is a project blog and it will launch in the Fall (aka Autumn). Something to watch … it will be interesting to see if incentives are strong enough to encourage strong participation. Andew Walsh, who is managing the project, writes about it briefly in an article about the Library’s work with social tools.

The rewards users can gain through Lemon tree are developing as we see what works and what our users enjoy, with a massive range of options possible. We are particularly interested though in engaging those people who we know come into our library, but borrow very few books and rarely access our electronic resources. If we can make it fun for them to use the information resources we have and increase their usage then Lemon Tree will have succeeded for us. [Tweets, texts & trees.]

I see that Andrew uses two of the words – ‘engaging’ and ‘fun’ – which were part of the definition of gamification given above. The third – ‘Loyalty’ – would be good too to see as a result too …

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