Gamification, the use of gameplay mechanics for non-game applications, is transforming online news into an engaging, social and fun activity. It’s quickly becoming the next frontier in web and mobile technology.

But what makes gamification successful? Simply put: motivation. By tracking readers’ success, news organizations provide a sense of progress. This, in turn, motivates readers to continue reading, commenting or performing whatever actions on the site that will contribute to their overall progress.

At Mashable, we’ve incorporated gamification into Mashable Follow, our social layer and content curation tool. Readers sign up for Follow with their Facebook or Twitter login to comment on and share stories, manage their news streams by following the topics they care most about, and connecting with fellow readers by viewing and commenting on their site activity.

Activity is the core of Follow. Readers must be logged in to comment on articles and are encouraged to share to any or all of their social media accounts with a single button.

Rewarding readers for taking these actions was an important component of Follow. We decided to use Badges as the reward systems because they are native to our audience. The Badges are central to Follow’s game mechanics. Readers earn badges for everything, from gaining followers to connecting social networking profiles to their account. So far, there are 26 badges that Mashable community members can earn. Most are named after web memes, such as Strutting Leo and Double Rainbow.

Of course Follow badges are just one example of game mechanics on a news site — and here’s why they work.


Fostering Community


As a result of the hunger for badges, readers develop a more personal and valuable community on our site. All badge-worthy actions are tied to Mashable community contributions, such as commenting and inviting friends to use Follow. This inadvertently creates a stronger bond between Follow users and our site, making for a more engaged and committed readerbase.

Andrew David Baron, an avid Follow user, can attest to the badges encouraging Mashable readers to comment more. “[The gamification] lends itself to creating an informed hierarchy of Social followers… not many people are willing to take a risk and put their comment out there first,” he said.

Bob Aycock, another frequent Follow user agrees.

“Once Mashable launched Follow it made me start leaving comments and replying to other folks’ comments,” he said. “I also read more posts now that Follow has become such a hit (and personal addiction).”


Resonating With Readers


Mashable coverage is driven by web culture. That’s why we chose web memes as the main theme for Follow badges. Some of the most popular ones are David After Dentist, the unforgettable YouTube video of a child reacting to dental surgery medication, and Dramatic Chipmunk, yet another notable (albeit short) YouTube video. Keeping the badges consistent with our content area helps give readers a deeper connection to Mashable.

“It really makes people smile to see something funny, referential, nerdy, etc. — things that we can relate to and feel even more at home at Mashable,” Baron said. The Sad Keanu badge, inspired by a viral Keanu Reeves photo, is his favorite.


Creating Competition


In real life and on the web, badges are status symbols. Each earned badge shows as an update in the reader’s My Activity stream as well as the Friends’ Activity stream. Followers can comment on these updates and often do so, sharing congratulations — or jealousy. Knowing what badges friends are earning makes the game more of a friendly competition, which increases readers’ motivation to use the service. In addition, each Follow user profile has a Badges tab that shows what badges a reader has earned and which they have yet to unlock. These publicly displayed achievements make keeping up in the badge-earning race essential.


Room For Growth


Just as the next big web meme is always around the corner, so are future Follow badges. We aim to give readers something to continue striving for as a motivation to remain active. Our team is continuously brainstorming badge design and milestone ideas. It seems our readers are too. They recently got involved with the process by entering our Follow Badge Contest, which resulted in our newest badge: The Honey Badger. Involving the community in the gaming dynamics gets readers further excited about and vested in Follow.


Conclusion


Though badges have worked well for Mashable Follow, there are a number of gaming mechanics and strategies. Points, challenges and virtual currency have been successful for some sites as rewards, while behavior and calls-to-action are examples of viable game dynamics. Gamification remains an open book for the news industry. We’ve only scratched the surface on the potential for community building, revenue and more.

At the heart of gamification is games — and games are intended to be enjoyable. News organizations should explore it and challenge themselves to take a fresh angle on engaging their communities. And, remember, have fun.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, rubenhi


Presenting Sponsor: AT&T


More About: community, content, curation, gamification, journalism, mashable, mashable follow, Media

For more Dev & Design coverage:


Thumbnail

Just over two years since its move from the antiquated CVS to Subversion (SVN), PHP is once again on the move : this time, to Git . Well, eventually. The migration from CVS to SVN was a huge one and took many months.

Read more here:
PHPMaster: PHP is Moving to Git (Eventually)

328-firefox-4

Firefox’s rapid release schedule has not been the success Mozilla hoped. Most web developers agree it’s good for HTML5 feature evolution but it’s not without problems:

  • Add-on compatibility. Most of us use extensions which cannot keep up with Firefox’s development progress.
  • Increased effort. The majority of IT departments must test mission-critical applications before a browser update can be deployed throughout the enterprise.
  • Confusion. Few people understand the rationale behind major version increments. Why shouldn’t Firefox 6 be version 4.2?

Mozilla is replicating Google’s release model but Chrome does not necessarily exhibit the same problems. It’s add-ons system is far simpler; more akin to bookmarklets than integrated code. The browser also has fewer legacy hurdles and has silently updated since the early days. Those using Chrome either understand this concept or don’t care.

One solution Mozilla considered was the removal of version numbers from Firefox’s “Help > About” dialog. Mozilla’s logic:

  1. Few users understand version numbers.
  2. Removal would simplify the UI.
  3. Users would be informed when the last check occurred, whether they were using the latest version, and how they could update (if Firefox had not automagically done so).
  4. If you really needed the version number, it could be found in about:support.

Uproar ensued on Bugzilla and the associated newsgroup discussion. The majority of respondents detested the idea (although a large volume of ranting and spam appeared when Mozilla’s intentions went public).

The organization put forward some reasonable arguments but ultimately backed down. Mozilla’s Robert Kaiser:

Can we close this bug report?

Version numbers in software are like coordinate systems in physics: irrelevant and necessary at the same time — it’s completely irrelevant how you do them, but they provide necessary reference points. Not more, not less.

Where ever we go with this, I don’t think it will have either a large impact on version number messaging or on making Firefox useless, so I think the rage on both sides is overrated.

The reply from VanillaMozilla:

Done … I’m having a hard time finding anyone at all who thinks this is a good idea.

The argument become overheated but Mozilla’s proposition had a number of flaws:

  1. It went against established UI conventions that span OSes and 20+ years of IT development. There may be better ways, but removing version numbers is not likely to be the best solution.
  2. The proposal was too simplistic and did nothing to tackle Firefox’s rapid update issues. Version numbering was never the cause or the cure.
  3. Users may not understand version numbers, but removing them was a non-issue. Firefox wouldn’t suddenly become easier to use.
  4. There are multiple versions of Firefox in the wild. Some would have version numbers, some wouldn’t. None of the older editions would state they were out of date.
  5. Version numbers are important to developers and IT support staff. What’s the first question you ask when someone reports a problem in a specific browser?

Version numbers have been rendered meaningless in Chrome and Firefox. Few people know or care what version of Chrome they’re running. Perhaps, one day, the same will be true for Firefox — but we’re not there yet.

Firefox is an older browser with far more baggage and a large, passionate user community. Mozilla ultimately listened to their demands, but the the proposal and subsequent onslaught did nothing for the browser.

For the last couple of weeks I have been (somewhat excessively) excited about an idea that I’ve been cooking up for a Twitter competition, and the time has come to let it loose on the world.

The basic premise is to get you to tell us what you’d like to learn, while making fools of yourselves. In order to do that, we want you to take ridiculous photos incorporating the SitePoint logo using whatever you want – food, objects, people, yourself, whatever… To demonstrate just how easy that can be I’ve taken one myself – but I have no doubt that you can do better. In fact, my cat could probably do better (he’d probably even get the logo the right way around, and as you can see, he looks great in a SitePoint t-shirt).

SitePointers doing the SitePoint sign

Cat in a SitePoint shirt

We then want you to upload that photo as part of a tweet telling us what you want to learn in a way that will pique the curiosity of your friends. The only rule (aside from attaching a photo) is that you must hash tag #sitepoint somewhere in that tweet in order to be eligible.

The competition will run for 5 days and the funniest/cleverest/most imaginative photo each day will win. Judging is based solely on my personal discretion. (I don’t take bribes but I do find idiocy especially entertaining.)

Winners can select their choice of a SitePoint course and a SitePoint book (print or ePack). To find out what you want to learn and for more information about the SitePoint courses that are available check out our sister site Learnable. For details of the books that you could choose from should you win, check out our bookstore.

So, to summarise:

  • Take a photo that somehow incorporates the SitePoint logo in an entertaining way
  • Tweet that photo telling us what you’d like to learn at Learnable
  • Hash tag #sitepoint in that tweet

Here are some examples:
Here is my cat wearing his #sitepoint t-shirt. He looks smart. He’d be keen to learn CSS3 & I wouldn’t mind joining him http://photourlhere

Thanks to #sitepoint I have the chance to learn HTML5. I have shaved their logo in my back hair and I look hot. http://photourlhere

I have arranged my herd of miniature ponies into the #sitepoint logo! I’m hoping to win a ProBlogger course! http://photourlhere




Tumblr founder David Karp showed up yesterday to christen his company’s new office in Richmond, Virginia.

At the opening celebration, the popular blogging platform’s founder spoke extensively about the startup’s plans for the future — plans that definitely set it apart from the product-focused startup scene on the West Coast and plans that will make the most of the company’s recent $30 million round of funding.

In an interview with local writer Johnny Hugel, Karp said that community — a huge part of Tumblr’s success so far — would play a larger role than product in the near future.

He’s even making community management, especially in creative communities such as fashion and film, a central goal for Tumblr.

“You look in fashion, creative writing, photography, music, so many of these creative circles,” said Karp, “and we have these really substantial communities that now live on Tumblr.

Tumblr has, in the past, put on events like concerts and film festivals around those groups. “They did wonderful things for the communities… resonated through the industries and brought attention to all of the stuff that was happening on Tumblr,” Karp continued.

“So that’s something that we want to get better at doing this next year… I imagine that by the end of this year, that’ll end up being maybe be half of our team.”

One new hire who will be working extensively in events and community is Rich Tong, Tumblr’s fashion director. We’re not aware of any other startup outside of the fashion world that has a fashion director; but we suppose that’s the point: Tumblr doesn’t see itself as being outside the fashion world or any other creative community.

Tong founded Weardrobe, a social fashion site that was acquired by Google mid-2010. In addition to being a good product guy with an entrepreneurial bent, Karp says, “He also has the fashion vocabulary, so unlike everybody else at Tumblr, he can go into that community and say, ‘Well, why do you use Tumblr? What could we be doing better? What’s the most interesting stuff that’s going on right now, and where do we find it?’”

Karp said he expects to make as many as 70 new hires before the end of 2011 — a move that would more than triple the startup’s current staff.

As far as product goes, Karp says engineers are still focused on creating the best experience possible. Soon, he said, “directories are getting a major overhaul.” In keeping with the company’s focus on community, Karp also expects to release some custom tools around film festivals and major fashion events.

We’ve also have a shiny new iPad app to look forward to, and mobile apps will also continue to be a focus of the company, whose mobile dev team all reside in Richmond and will be holding court at the new offices.

Can a strong focus on the creative communities help Tumblr continue to compete against forces like WordPress and Posterous? This NYC-based startup’s approach to community is quite different from what we’ve seen in other corners of the world, but for this product and this platform’s users, it just might work.

More About: blogging, community, david-karp, tumblr




Here’s an interesting twist on the online business model: Designer/developer community Forrst is allowing users to purchase “Acorns,” a sort of virtual currency that can be traded in for pageviews on a particular post.

Forrst is a popular site where developers and designers can share code snippets, design snapshots and interesting articles; users can also request community feedback on current projects.

Acorns and promoted posts are a big part of Forrst’s third iteration, which has been rolled out just shy of the site’s first birthday.

Acorns can be bought with Paypal; each one costs $5 and guarantees a specific number of impressions for promoted posts.

Any Forrst user can use Acorns to make sure that his or her important posts, such as job-related posts or promotional posts about new products, are seen by thousands of users in the web development and design community.

The Forrst team says Acorns will also be used for “a few things coming over the next few months,” so we’ll keep our eyes open for whatever goodies Forrst might be rolling out in early 2011.

Other changes include a new homepage (which is much less adorable but much more functional for the first-time user), a redesign of post pages, and an impressive, ground-up rewrite of the site architecture and libraries.

To accomplish this rewrite, the Forrst team wrote a PHP5 framework called Magnus, which they hope to open-source sometime in the next year. We’ll be keeping you posted on that, as well.

Forrst is also integrating with JSFiddle, Pastie and GitHub’s Gist for its code snippets.

We’re impressed with the improvements that the Forrst team is rolling out and on the impression the site has made on the web design/development community in the past year. What do you think of Acorns and the other Forrst changes in version three?


Reviews: Forrst

More About: acorns, business, community, design, forrst

For more Dev & Design coverage: