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If you are Not having Fun you are Not doing it Right.
Part of what I do involves talking to people to find out what really drives them to do what they do. Most of these conversations invariably steer into the obvious answers- career growth, better business, more profits, more money, a better life, bigger house and so on...
My latest project involved designing better communication systems for social volunteering groups. I was eager to see what really drives these people. What can you do to motivate / incentivize an activity that has its supposed origins in 'selfless service to the community'?
The preliminary findings were of course - 'giving back to the society, caring for your fellow citizens and being socially aware'. But somehow I knew I was just scratching the surface. I made it a point to meet these groups at their coffee breaks and evening snacks. Instead of the sombre, serious, 'what-is-the-world-coming-to?' type characters you might expect from a social volunteering group, I saw that these guys were fun. I was hanging out with the organisers as well as the volunteers of these groups. There was teasing, leg pulling and jokes all around. They were there not just to transform lives but to have a good time with their friends and in the process do some good in the society they live in.
I realised that the most popular groups are the ones who are not burdened by the fact they they are doing 'social work'. They are the ones who have most fun. They all wear paper hats to a volunteering event. Some show up wearing fake moustaches (yes, girls too). The idea is people will perform better if they can have fun doing an activity. What is it that we can give to a group of young people who have come forward to work together for the greater good without expecting anything in return? - FUN :)
Gamification is a term we hear a lot these days. Simply put it is the use of 'Game design' principles in non-gaming contexts. They engage the users and essentially let them have fun while doing tasks that would otherwise be considered boring. We as humans are psychologically predisposed to 'playing', we love playing games. Popular interfaces are able to engage us by letting us compete against others or ourselves. They make us work harder by giving us badges (foursquare), leader boards(Gowalla), progress bars( profile completion in linkedin) and level-ups (popular forums). They get us to sign up even when we know we do not get anything in return (Places I visited - Trip advisor). Well, nothing other than 'Bragging Rights' :D
In the future, Usability alone may cease to be a differentiating factor for your product in the super competitive market. That will be a prerequisite. Users will come to you if you are usable, but they will come 'back' only if you are FUN. If I can take the fun factor that volunteer groups have in their real life and translate it into the online system, I would have done my job. And, I am going to make sure I have fun doing it :)
There are some good resources on the world wide web for learning about Gamification in interfaces. This is what shows up prominently across all of them. These four concepts form the cornerstones which will help you build engaging interfaces which ensure maximum involvement from the users.
Problem > Progress > Status > Reward
Problem: Define a clear goal. Give people a clear idea of the problem to solve with measureable results.
Progress: Provide a way for people to track their own progress. This could be a point system, game currency or level ups.
Status: Keep a track of Top scorers; maintain leader boards with high visibility.
Reward: Additional functionality, new features, profile badges, social recognition, real world prizes… take your pick!