Games, Markets, and Work and Play on the Web

I’ve always said that people come online mostly to do variations of two things – talk and play.  Today, Matthew Ingram had a great post on GigaOm titled “Why Everything Is Becoming a Game.”

The gist of the post was that a generation of gamers are getting older and that being able to adapt games wisely is becoming a winning strategy.  Matthew writes:

What is the impact of all that gaming on our society? One academic, Lee Sheldon of Indiana University, says the generation that has grown up with ubiquitous online gaming is bringing that culture with it into the educational system — and ultimately, into the workforce. “As the gamer generation moves into the mainstream workforce, they are willing and eager to apply the culture and learning techniques they bring with them from games,” Sheldon, an assistant professor at the university’s department of telecommunications, told ITNews. He said older managers will have to “figure out how to educate themselves to the gamer culture, and how to speak to it most effectively.”

He goes on to give examples of companies who have used games effectively such as Slashdot and Wikipedia.  He believes games are successful because they take advantage of peoples “innate desire to compete with one another”.  I agree.

One such “game” I have been playing lately is a music discovery site, thesixtyone.  thesixtyone is a beautifully designed site whose goal is to help users identify great music and bring it to the attention of other users.  The game underlying the site is very market-based.  You get a fixed amount of hearts that you can give to songs.  A heart is like currency that you invest in songs. If you heart a song that other people heart, you earn reputation points. Essentially the investment throws off some return.  The more reputation points you earn the more control you have within the economy.  This control includes bid to revive songs, which puts a song on the “home” page (which in market terms gives your song a massive amount of attention and “liquidity”).   If you run out of hearts you can earn them by listening to really “illiquid”  new or unheard of songs, or going on various quests that nudge you to explore music.  It’s really a fascinating site.

What I find most interesting about such a site is the game underlying the site forces you to do work.  Any audiophile knows that listening to music can be quite rewarding. As most rewarding things, however, it involves a decent amount of work.  Pop music is very easy to consume but often times not as complex and rewarding in the long term.  Most people don’t want to do the work to discover and find great music but someone has to do it.  What the thesixtyone does, is turn that work into a game.  Through many of its quests to earn the currency within its economy, it makes you go through the process of discovering and listening to music – and makes it fun and addictive at the same time.  It is essentially a market that is designed to allocate the best songs to the most amount of ears.  Awesome!

As I said earlier, people come onto the web to mostly to talk and to play – not work.  For the next phase of web to really take off a lot of work must be done.  A lot of people hate on foursquare but they quite brilliantly use a simple game to get users to do something they ordinarily wouldn’t – share their location.  This is work to most people but foursquare has turned it into a game.

We don’t have the algorithms yet to automate things like curation as many algorithms can be gamed too easily.  I really think games (and markets) are going to be critical in order to organize and optimize all the information on the web.  There is a global web workforce eager to add a curated filter to the web, but I’m afraid the only way to get them do to the heavy-lifting is to get them playing.

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