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Showing posts with label gamification. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gamification. Show all posts

Friday, November 30, 2012

Enterprise Software Needs Flow And Not Gamification



I don't believe in gamifying enterprise applications. As I have argued before, the primary drivers behind revenue and valuation of consumer software companies are number of users, traffic (unique views), and engagement (average time spent + conversion). This is why gamification is critical to consumer applications since it is an effort to increase the adoption of an application amongst the users and maintain the stickiness so that the users keep coming back and enjoy using the application. This isn't true for enterprise applications at all. This is not only not true for enterprise applications, but gamifying enterprise applications is couterproductive that makes existing task more complex and creates an artificial carrot that does not quite work.

A design philosophy that we really need for enterprise applications is flow. I am a big fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience." I would highly recommend you to read it. Mihaly describes flow as a series of autotelic experiences as an activity that consumes us and becomes intrinsically rewarding. The core intent of gamification is to make the applications a pleasure to use. What people really want is enjoyment and not just pleasure. They are different. Enjoyment is about moving forward and accomplishing something. Enjoyment happens due to unusual investment of attention. It comes from tasks that you have a chance to complete, has clear goals, provides feedback, and makes you lose your self-consciousness.

All the gamification efforts by new innovative entrants that I see seem to be disproportionately focused on "edge" applications since it's relatively easy for an entrant to break into edge applications to beat an incumbent as opposed to redesigning a core application. But most users I know spend their lives using the core systems. They have no intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to use these systems. Integrate flow in these systems to create intrinsic rewards that creates autotelic experiences. Application designers have traditionally ignored flow since it's a physical element that is external to an application, but life and social status extend beyond the digital life and enterprise applications. You get to be known as that finance guy or that marketing gal who is really awesome at work and helps people with their problems to get work done. Needless to say, helping people and getting work done are intrinsically rewarding. Help these people with their core activities and make non-core activities as minimum or transparent as possible. If I am hiking, make my drive to the trail head as easy as possible but make my hike as rewarding as possible. That should be the design principle of how you integrate flow into enterprise applications. Also, focus on perpetual intermediaries; design applications to reduce or eliminate learning curve but introduce users to advanced features as they make progress to increase their productivity on performing repeated tasks. This helps create an intrinsic reward of having learned and mastered a system. As people learn new things they become more complex and unique human beings, and believe it or not, you can influence that in your design of your enterprise software that they spend their lives using it.

Photo Courtesy: Mark Chadwick

Monday, June 6, 2011

Social Shaming

An interaction designer, Joshua Kaufman, had his MacBook stolen a few days back. He is a smart dude. He had installed an app called Hidden on his MacBook before it was stolen. He tracked down the thief and asked the Oakland PD to catch him. They said no. He was frustrated, obviously. He published all the details regarding the theft including the picture of the guy who stole his MacBook on his blog. This story went viral on Twitter and Facebook and made it almost impossible for the cops to ignore it. Oakland PD found the guy and arrested him. Since then the story has been picked up by many major media outlets and became sort of a sensation.

Social shaming works.

There's a fine line between peer pressure and social shaming. Many car dealerships in the US have a whiteboard that tracks which sales reps sold how many cars. They also ring a bell every time someone sells a car. It's a cheesy thing to do, but it sends a clear message to other people to be more aggressive; it's indeed a form of peer pressure. It's also an efficient technique to motivate the kids.

In fact, it's one of the most important gamification elements.

Public shaming has been used in many different ways e.g. send an email out to all the sales people with a list of people highlighted in red that haven't updated the CRM system. I know of a company that had a practice in place to publicly give a "D'oh! award" to a developer who broke the nightly build. Social shaming is essentially public shaming using social media. During my discussion with many enterprise social software vendors, analysts, and thought leaders I have repeatedly argued that changing end users' behavior is less likely to succeed unless there's a significant upside for the end users. What is more likely to work is codifying the real life end user behavior in the software that they use. Social shaming is one of those. One of the ways to achieve this could be by designing software that promotes radical transparency, signals one's successes to the other, and nudges them to excel without embarrassing them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gamification Of Enterprise Applications

Gamification is a hot topic for consumer applications. It is changing the way the companies, especially the start-ups, design their applications. The primary drivers behind revenue and valuation of consumer software companies are number of users, traffic (unique views), and engagement (average time spent + conversion). This is why gamification is critical to consumer applications since it is an effort to increase the adoption of an application amongst the users and maintain the stickiness so that the users keep coming back and enjoy using the application.

This isn't true for enterprise applications at all.

For consumer applications, the end user and the buyer (if they pay to use) are the same. e.g. Amazon, eBay, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. For enterprise applications, the end user is not the buyer. The buyers of enterprise applications write a check but don't use the applications, and even worse, the end users have a little or no influence on what gets bought. The on-premise ISVs don't directly benefit from user adoption, once the software is sold. This is also true for cloud or SaaS solutions except that there is no shelfware in SaaS. I would argue that the enterprise ISVs, on-premise as well as SaaS, would in fact benefit, in short term, from reduced user adoption since they would save money by supporting fewer users and reduced activity. Obviously, this is a very short-sighted and myopic view. I hope that the enterprise ISVs don't actually think that way since broader user adoption and deeper engagement are certainly important for longer term growth that allows the ISVs to build brand loyalty, develop stronger customer base, and gain an opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell.

The fundamental reason behind poor adoption of the enterprise applications is that they are simply not easy-to-use and they almost always come in the way to get the actual work done. In many cases, they are designed to be orthogonal to the actual business process that it is supposed to help an end user with. Also, in most cases, these applications are designed top-down to serve the needs of senior management and not the real needs of end users e.g. a CRM system that helps management to run pipeline reports but doesn't help a rep to be more efficient and agile. In cases where broader adoption for enterprise applications is required, it is typically achieved via a top-down mandate e.g. annoying reminder emails to fill out time sheets. The end users don't see themselves as a clear beneficiary of these applications.

Simply put, the approach to gain user adoption for consumer applications is a "carrot" and for the enterprise applications it is a "stick". But, it doesn't have to be that way. There's a significant potential to apply gamification elements to increase the end user engagement for the enterprise applications, make them sticky and fun to use, and make it a win-win situation for the buyers as well as the end users.

Cater to perpetual intermediaries:

Have you ever played Angry Birds? If not, I would highly encourage you to do so. It serves the category of people known as "casual gamers". These games have pretty much zero adoption barrier for a novice, but when you get serious, there are enough challenges in the game as you progress to keep you entertained and bring you back. The equivalent of casual gamers in the enterprise applications are known as "perpetual intermediaries". They don't want to become power users, but they don't want to stay beginners as well. The tool should have zero barrier for a first time user and should have affordances that encourages users to explore and learn more. Microsoft has done a pheneomenal job with Word and Excel. They are extremely easy to use for a person who has never used these tools before and they provide further discovery via contextual menus and reassurance via drop-down menus (and ribbon in later versions) in the journey of becoming a perpetual intermediary. That's exactly how I expect all the enterprise applications should behave.

Let users leverage serendipity:

One of the early features of Google Apps that I really liked: when user logs into Google Apps for a specific domain, she can see other people in the same domain (same company) who are also using Google Apps. This was not a task that someone explicitly wanted to accomplish, but sheer serendipity allowed them to discover other people and eventually helped collaborate with them. If there's an element of surprise in any app, that experience typically leaves positive impact on a user. How many times did you run into someone at a cafetaria or in a hallway and found that short and tacit conversation extremely valuable? The ISVs should thrive to create this experience in their applications. Foursquare's feature to let users know who else is at a venue, Facebook Places' push notification to notify when friends check-in at a place close by, and certain activity feeds that passively push information to users are all examples that leverages serendipity.

Design for teams over individuals:

The gamification elements for consumer applications target individuals, but that's not how corporations are run. In these corporations, the work gets done by a team and not by individuals — it's a team sport. It's the team and not the individuals that wins and loses. Also, for the most consumer applications, the individuals don't compete with other individuals on aspects beyond the application. The employees in a corporation aren't necessarily known for healthy competition and the gamification rewards might aggravate the existing rivalry. The badges are a digital reward, an accomplishment of some kind. Consumer companies are still struggling to take the badges beyond the reputation. I clearly see an opportunity to link the reputation, gained through some kind of contribution, to an economic reward. I know of a case where a manager had set aside 20% team bonus based on contribution to a group WIki as means to open up information and help others. It did work. However, I would be careful in setting up these kind of systems. The reward model, if not applied correctly, could backfire. But, on the other hand, it's a gamification element that holds significant potential. It'a dagger, use it carefully.

Balance simplicity and productivity:

Simplicity is one of the simplest (no pun intended) yet the most ignored and least understood gamification element. As I mentioned above, the systems that are designed for the perpetual intermediaries should be simple to get started. These systems could potentially get far more complex as you explore more and more features. But, there's another class of systems that people only occasionally use e.g. leave request, annual goal setting etc. It's far more important to keep these systems simple at all levels. Imagine the experience of going from one carnival stall to another and play all the games. You need very little or no instructions. These games at carnival are derived from a few basic games with a few twists, but these twists do not require people to go through a steep learning curve. That's how the applications that people rarely use should be designed; it should use the affordances and principles that the users have witnessed and experienced some place else and it should be broken down like carnival stalls to make the journey easy and fun.

The serious gamers prefer power over simplicity. They like to use shortcuts and a zillion combinations of all the keys on their consoles to get moving quickly inside the game. This is exactly the behavior of the power users of enterprise applications. An Accounts Receivables (AR) interface should not force an AR clerk to learn how to create an invoice every time she opens the application. She has learned the ropes and she expects to be productive and she wants to be faster and better than others. The tools should provide enough "power" features to such users to make them successful.

Photo credit: ccarlstead
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