LinkedIn founder: Don’t be blind to gamification’s value
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LinkedIn founder: Don’t be blind to gamification’s value

April 2012
Don’t ignore the power of adding modern video-game-like functionality into even the most sober business app, warns social media pioneer Reid Hoffman.

Many interesting techniques become part of “buzzword bingo” in business meetings, but they often get there because, underneath, there’s real utility. To me, that’s true of gamification — the application of game dynamics to products, and specifically to software and the web. If you’re curious about what game dynamics are, just go and play a few cool games.

What’s interesting, however, is that game dynamics don’t have to be applied only to computer games. I’ll give you a couple of examples of other applications. The first is from LinkedIn, where we have a thing called the “profile completeness bar.” This tells users how far they’ve got with filling in their profile, from 0% to 100%, and suggests the next thing they might do to reach that 100% target.

“Gamification must be part of the user’s engagement with the product.”

This tool took about one hour’s worth of coding work, but it increased the average number of characters in a LinkedIn profile (across 120 million-plus member profiles) by around 20%. And here’s why: when someone is sitting in front of their profile, and they see that it’s incomplete, they don’t say, “Oh, I’d rather have that less than 100%.” They want it to be complete. The profile completeness bar is simply the prompt that makes it happen.

My second example is an educational company called ClassDojo. Its aim is to create positive classroom dynamics for young children by changing the dynamics of reward and attention. One of the problems in a traditional classroom is that the noisy child is the one that gets all the attention — the one who’s being the most disruptive. So how do you change that dynamic so the well-behaved kids get more attention? The ClassDojo guys came up with the idea of a screen that shows who’s getting good “karma points” for being attentive and constructive in class.

“The biggest potential for gamification is in keeping users’ attention and encouraging behavior change.”

Kids see this and realize they get more attention and rewards by being a positive contributor. This creates a better classroom dynamic and shows how gamification can be applied in a physical, real-world environment.

When applying game dynamics, we need to make the dynamics consistent with the values of the users. Just adding a game to an application is no good; that’s an indirect way of breaking faith with the user. Instead, gamification must be done in such a way that the user “gets” what they’re doing and why — it must be part of their engagement with the product. The biggest potential for gamification in software and on the web is in keeping users’ attention and encouraging behavior change.

Reid Hoffman is co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn and a partner at Greylock Ventures. He has been an early investor in scores of technology start-ups, including Facebook, Flickr and Last.fm, and sits on the board of social gaming pioneer Zynga. He was speaking as part of the 2012 Silicon Valley Comes to the UK program.
First published April 2012
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