All carrot, no stickMarch 9, 2009
We’re currently working through speccing out the next round of changes for the Community Almanac, a site we’ve produced in conjunction with the Orton Family Foundation.
One of the challenges we’re working through is how to provide better ways to guide users through the ladder of engagement: to move from passively viewing the site, through providing feedback on content, all the way to being a leading participant and real resource for the Community Almanac.
It is difficult to hit that sweet spot, where the site manages foster the kind of behavior and interactions it wants to encourage, without making users feel like they’re being herded like cattle, or that they don’t have meaningful choices. LinkedIn does a good job of this with their progress bar, but that didn’t feel like a great fit for a more collaborative project like the Community Almanac. Earlier today I had an idea which seemed promising – since I’m not sure whether my idea is too radical for this project, I wanted to braindump it here.
In short, I wanted to hijack the metaphor of achievements used in the gaming arena (XBox Live and Steam are two of the best-known implementations). Here’s a screenshot of an achievement list for Team Fortress 2, a recent game available on Steam:
The unattained achievements scroll down off the page. This provides clear guidance to users about what they need to do to ‘advance’.
In the context of gaming, achievements are bound to behavior which the games want to foster, or which is challenging to complete – or in some cases, both. Achievements are a way for gamers to be rewarded for good gameplay, and to show off their accomplishments to others (for example, I know anyone who has attained the Little Rocket Man achievement in Half-Life 2 is far more patient than I am, for example.
Now, there’s nothing inherent in this approach which is bound to video games, which is why I think it has promise for the Community Almanac.
I could easily see us having achievements created for behavior we want to encourage in the almanac, like:
- Add a new page
- Give feedback on ten existing pages
- Email a page to a friend
The titles probably ought to be more playful, but the tasks are the sorts of ones I think are good candidates. We could even have achievements be based on helping others become involved, like “have someone you’ve invited to contribute add a new page”. In the longer term, it would also be nice tie a reputation system to these achievements – and if we highlight that reputation in the interface, it provides a nice way to give regular contributors warm fuzzies and recognition, as well as help orient new users and steer them in a positive direction.
If we tracked task completion within a session (even for not-logged-in users), this could be a way to draw users into creating an account. Presenting messaging to users indicating that by doing X they just earned achievement Y, congratulating them and presenting the option to save this progress by creating an account (or by logging in to their existing account), would be a friendly way to help users move up the ladder of engagement.
Hopefully I’ll manage to make a compelling case, and you’ll see achievements coming to the Community Almanac soon. If not, look for me trying to fit this in to other projects – I think there’s some real potential here.