Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pounding In Nails That Stick Out: Gamification and the Intersection of Social Media and Business

Good group dynamics is a miraculous and amazing thing. In the best of times, it appears that the entire group has had one idea simultaneously and each person can bring their skills to bear to make the project happen. It's as if one has somehow stepped into a Mickey Rooney movie and every kid is pitching in to put on the show.

Group dynamics online can work that way. A dedicated group of people can bring their skills to create just about anything, from an online community to a new paradigm of charity donations. But, often when you enter that community - especially if you are a latecomer - you find that group dynamics work according to unwritten rules, and often seem to adhere to the old Japanese adage of a harmonious society - pound in the nail that sticks out.

Think for a moment about the kinds of communities that build up on MMORPGS (Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games) like World of Warcraft. Individual achievement is recognized and rewarded, but groups can and do turn on their own members if one player exceeds the rest significantly. "We're all in this together, so don't get ahead of yourself" is the unwritten rule in group play. In real life, there are plenty of people who can't feel happy for those who succeed where they don't - the online world is no different. Of course it isn't - people don't change, only the technology does. So, where a nail sticks out in an online community, you have to expect that there will be people who want to pound it back in.

Which brings me to Quora.

I want to say upfront - I love Quora.

Quora is a Question and Answer forum that has a user base with high computer and business literacy, which sets it apart from more mainstream Q&A platforms like Yahoo Answers or LinkedIn Answers. Also unlike these two platforms, Quora maintains a relatively high standard for both questions and answers. Q&As are expected to be well-written, intelligent and conversation-forwarding.

Quora also has integrated several features that allow other users to upgrade, support and downgrade your status on the system.

Other users can (and do) suggest edits for your answers - and they can manipulate your standing within the platform by up- or down-voting your answers. Users can tag your questions to help promote them - or to indicate that you are asking the question based on an assumption that others might not have. For instance, if I ask you, "Which is the Best Chocolate EVER, Godiva or Lindt?" I am assuming that either one or the other is the best chocolate ever. A better question is, "What chocolate do you consider the best chocolate EVER?" (In case you care, the best chocolate ever, IMHO, is from a company called Li-Lac in NYC.)

In effect, Quora has turned the kind of information-sharing reference librarians have engaged in for ages into a game. You receive status for well-answered and well-asked questions. These virtual pats on the head manipulate your status on the platform in real time. A person with many up-votes automatically jumps to the top of a list of answers, based on past expertise and reputation.

For the best article I've read on participation on Quora, read this post, Welcome to Quora, Do Yourself a Favor & Slow Down by Lucretia Pruitt.

What I wanted to talk about today is what happens when you start to receive status on a community like Quora.

Quora is a republic. The leaders are Citizens #1, as indicated by laurels awarded by their fellow citizens in the form of up-votes. And, as happens in such groups, some citizens forget that the point of the Republic is to maintain a high quality of life for everyone...they become focused on pulling those top Citizens down from their pedestal. This is also part of human nature.

As soon as a person starts gaining status on Quora, they might find that they encounter more, rather than less, down-voting. Truly influential people are targeted by cliques of users determined to undermine their status. The higher one rises...the more effort there is to pound them back down as a reward for sticking out.

Google is about to launch +1 as a new feature. Consumers will be able to affect companies' status in search returns with this tool. In effect, this adds a more public leveling up or down to the sharing function of Facebook's ubiquitous "like" button. People can "share" your business with the world - they can also up-vote you. It doesn't take a genius to see that action committees/cliques/private armies will be formed to manipulate this.

Facebook, Google and Quora are hardly the only companies to "gamify" the intersection of Social Media and business. Foursquare and Crunchyroll offer achievement badges for participation, Get Glue offers stickers and t-shirts, even my other blog offers badges of honor. Gamification is here to stay. Gamification turns your business into a citizen in a republic.

Gamification of business and information means that gaming etiquette reigns.

Individual achievement is rewarded....but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep one eye looking behind you at all times.

Nails that stick out too far are liable to be pounded back in.
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