Pete Davison: You Checked In

Posted on May 7, 2011 by

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Gamification pervades our mobile, Internet-connected society. The concept has been around a lot longer than the buzzword, of course, but it’s in recent years that it’s really taken off thanks to all manner of applications that while in practice are mostly pointless, somehow manage to be fun. I guess that’s part of the point.

Take Foursquare, for example, primarily a service to do two things: to tell people where you are, and to find things that are nearby. But add in points, leaderboards and collectible badges and somehow it becomes an incentive to get out and about and explore places. Same with rival app Gowalla, which has a whole other set of things to collect.

When the whole “check-in” craze first started, it looked like it was primarily going to be a location-based service. But no — services like GetGlue popped up, allowing people to check in to the entertainment they were enjoying as well as discuss it with others and find out new things that they like.

Whatever you think about the applications and their uses themselves, all of them contribute to building up a large, mostly user-generated database of Interesting Things, whether those things are places, pieces of entertainment, beers or whatever else you can check in to these days. Would people take the time to put these collaborative databases together if they didn’t feel like they were being “rewarded” for it?

Well, perhaps. Look at Wikipedia — that represents a repository of a considerable amount of human knowledge on topics both important and utterly asinine. There’s no experience levels, badges or anything else there, just the contributors’ knowledge that they have helped with a worldwide effort to collect humanity’s knowledge.

What the “gamification” side of things adds, though, is enough incentive for lazy people to take part. People who write and edit Wikipedia entries are, in all likelihood, interested in their topic enough to be able to write at length about it — not to mention putting up with the seemingly-endless community criticism. Someone who checks into a Foursquare venue and leaves a tip saying “try the beef curry, it’s fantastic and only costs four quid on Tuesdays” is helping out other people who may be stopping by the same beef curry-selling establishment and also feels like they’re having a bit of fun while doing it.

Perhaps the education sector should take note. There’s already an element of gamification in schools, what with marks and grades and so on, but perhaps children would be more engaged with things like reading if there was more of a game-like “incentive” for them to get on with it? Perhaps schools should set up their own GetGlue-style social network to allow kids to check in to what they are doing and earn “rewards” for things like reading books, completing homework and the like.

Okay. You shouldn’t need that sort of thing to get kids engaged — but having worked as a teacher, it’s clear that something should be done to get kids interested rather than apathetic. Perhaps gamification is the way forward for education?

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Posted in: Pete Davison