Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

August 25 2013

Radio Thésard : Aurélien Fouillet / La sociologie du Jeu (France_Culture)

Radio Thésard : Aurélien Fouillet / La sociologie du Jeu (#France_Culture)

Après un travail sur le philosophe et poète Jean-Marie Guyau autour de la notion de risque, Aurélien Fouillet s’est orienté vers la #sociologie pour faire une sociologie du #jeu qu’il inscrit dans une anthropologie de l’#imaginaire. Sur le plan théorique, son travail fait régulièrement référence au thème post-moderne de la fin des grands discours. Et tout en se donnant pour actualité, la « #gamification » de la vie sociale.

#audio #radio

March 07 2012

Four short links: 7 March 2012

  1. Government Agencies and Colleges Demand Applicants' Facebook Passwords (MSN) -- "Schools are in the business of educating, not spying," he added. "We don't hire private investigators to follow students wherever they go. If students say stupid things online, they should educate them ... not engage in prior restraint." Hear, hear. Reminded me of danah boyd on teen password sharing.
  2. Changing Teaching Techniques (Alison Campbell) -- higher ed is a classic failure of gamification. The degree is an extrinsic reward, so students are disengaged and treat classes like gold farming in an MMORPG: the dull slog you have to get through so you can do something fun later. Alison, by showing them a "why" that isn't "6 credits towards a degree", is helping students identify intrinsic rewards. Genius!
  3. GlueJar -- interesting pre-launch startup, basically Kickstarter to buy out authors and publishers and make books "free". We in the software world know "free" is both loaded and imprecise. Are we talking CC-BY-NC-ND, which is largely useless because any sustainable distribution will generally be a commercial activity? I look forward to watching how this develops.
  4. There Is No Simple Solution for Local Storage (Mozilla) -- excellent dissection of localStorage's inadequacies.

December 06 2011

Stickers as sensors

Rather than ask people to integrate bulky or intrusive sensors into their lives, GreenGoose's upcoming system (pre-orders start on Dec. 15; systems ship on Jan. 1) will instead provide small stickers with built-in Internet-connected sensors. Tip a water bottle and the attached GreenGoose sticker logs it through a small base station that plugs into your wireless router. Feed the dog, go for a walk, clean the house — GreenGoose has designs on all of it. No special skills required.

GreenGoose founder Brian Krejcarek calls his company's sensors "elegantly playful." In the following short interview, Krejcarek explains how the GreenGoose stickers will work and how he hopes people will use the data they acquire from their everyday activities.

What will GreenGoose stickers measure?

Brian Krejcarek: Our sensors measure things you do based on how you interact with an object. This interaction correlates to a signature of forces that our sensors try to match against known patterns that represent a specific behavior around the use of the object. When there's a match, then we send a little wireless message from the sensor to the Internet.

For example, you can put a sensor sticker on a medicine bottle or water bottle. There are certain patterns here — tip, dispense, return upright — that the sensors can pick up.

Stickers are great for this because they're simple, flexible and they easily stick to curved things like bottles. Also, existing objects or things around the house can be enabled with sensing capabilities by just sticking on a sticker. We're taking everyday things and making them more fun. We're also lowering barriers to adopting sensors by treating them in a playful way.

We're trying to make it really easy. There's no batteries to recharge or USB cables or software to worry about. The sensors last more than a year, and the range is over 200 feet, so it's completely in the background.

We're finding all kinds of new applications for these sensors. We're going to be launching with sensors that target pets — measuring when you feed your pets or walk the dog, for instance. We've got about 50 or so other sensors in development right now that we will fairly quickly release over time.

GreenGoose sensor system
The GreenGoose sensor/sticker system.

How are you applying gamification?

Brian Krejcarek: We're keeping the gamification side of this really simple to start. It's all about making people smile and sharing a laugh as they do ordinary things throughout their day. No points, levels, or badges, necessarily. We're first going to roll out a simple application ourselves around these pet sensors, but developers will have immediate access to the API and data they generate. We invite those developers to start layering on their own game mechanics. GreenGoose is a platform play.

How do you think people will use the data your sensors gather?

Brian Krejcarek: We hope that the use of the data fits nicely into applications that help people have more fun with everyday things they do. Think families and kids. Toward that end, we've got a bunch of sensors on the way for toys and doing things around the house.

What lies ahead for GreenGoose?

Brian Krejcarek: Plans going forward include launching the previously mentioned sensor kits around pets, releasing an open API to developers, and launching a sensor around physical movement (exercise) as a little card that can slip into your wallet or purse. We affectionately call it a "get-up-off-your-bum" sensor. No calorie tracking, or graphs and charts. More sensors will be released shortly afterward, too.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Strata 2012 — The 2012 Strata Conference, being held Feb. 28-March 1 in Santa Clara, Calif., will offer three full days of hands-on data training and information-rich sessions. Strata brings together the people, tools, and technologies you need to make data work.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20


November 07 2011

Three game characteristics that can be applied to education

In a related post, I talked about what the notion of gamification as applied to education might mean on three levels. In particular, I described the lessons that might be learned by the field of education from the different types of gaming encountered in World of Warcraft and Minecraft — two very different online multiplayer games. In this post, I look at the technology roadmap that can support these three levels of application in real schools.

Level 1: Leveling up and questing

The first level is one where leveling, questing, and leaderboards can help motivate students to engage more with their schoolwork. Like a gamer who chooses his or her own path and pace to "level up," a student will choose his or her own path and pace to learn a standard curriculum and be able to prove advancement to that next level through performance on tests.

The technology to be successful at this level exists today — the obstacle is cost, and the payoff is more students demonstrating success on state tests, closing the achievement gap. To work, this model calls for a mobile device with plenty of bandwidth for every student and software that lets the student level up at his or her own pace. The software can be an online course or something more sophisticated and engaging. The idea is that with software support to allow personalization for each student, teachers will have more time to spend with individual students and small groups to help them succeed with whatever unique challenges they are working on that day.

Despite the numerous challenges to achieve this level in reality, this is actually the easiest of the three levels.

First, this level is easy because objective standards of "better" exist — higher scores on standardized state tests. A school can try various online classes or drills, or adaptive software with its particular students, and standardized test scores will provide the data regarding what worked best for them.

Second, this level is easy because the technology infrastructure degrades gracefully — it still works even if students don't have a device of their own. The first gains will come from just allowing students to work at their own pace on shared school computers. Since real schools are likely to have an uneven and years-long transition from the shared computer labs that most schools have today to ubiquitous computing environments, schools can make every penny count by creating an IT roadmap that supports self-paced leveling. In short, this will involve transitioning to cloud-based services as quickly as possible and increasing computer-to-student ratios and bandwidth as budgets allow.

Third, this level is easy because there are already processes in place for evolving the definition of "better." For more than 40 states, current standards are being replaced by the Common Core Standards developed through an initiative by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors' Association. The Common Core Assessments that are being developed to support these standards not only raise the bar for existing basic skills, but create assessments for higher-order thinking skills. By following their IT roadmaps, schools will be able to swap out current online tests for more sophisticated online tests over time, with no new technology architecture needed to participate in that continual improvement. If they have chosen cloud-based software that is easy to opt into and out of, they can experiment with new applications at will to see which ones best help their students perform on these increasingly sophisticated tests.

Level 2: Group collaboration

The second level is more like the World of Warcraft gameplay called "raiding" — group collaboration to achieve a shared goal. In Warcraft, that could involve downing a boss while in school it could be a collaboration on a book about local ecology. To the degree that work (or play) happens digitally, leaders (or teachers) can get rich insight into everyone's contributions and participation.

This level is hard. First of all, there is no agreement on what these collaboration and communication skills should look like. Second, there are, consequently, no assessments for these skills available. Third, there is no software developed to interpret collaboration based on the digital tracks left by students working together online. Fourth, there are no standards for how to balance student privacy with such data collection.

For all these reasons, the full burden falls on the teacher to create shared goals for students; create collaboration environments; and observe, analyze, and measure their skills. Fortunately, the same technology architecture that supported the comparatively easy first level of personalizing learning (above), can support the teacher in these tasks. By using project management tools and shared authoring tools, such as Google Docs and wikis that generate histories as students edit their shared work, a teacher can get pretty good first-order information on the timeline and magnitude and quality of each student's digital contributions. That's a big improvement over trying to be everywhere at once to observe each group's work.

Also, the same assessment groups that are working toward improved digital assessments for basic skills and higher-order thinking are also targeting 21st-century skills. If structured carefully, these digital assessments will also flow seamlessly into an IT roadmap for schools that is moving toward a ubiquitous computing environment.

Level 3: Play

The third level is less like traditional gamification and more about play. Rather than using Warcraft dynamics, it focuses on open-ended exploration — more like the game Minecraft. It already shows up in education through inquiry and the arts, and is more focused on developing questions than finding answers.

This is the expert level. This level confounds traditional approaches of measuring success — how do you measure the value of a question, or a journey, or artistic expression? If there are no outcomes that we know how to measure, then is the activity even a valid one for schools?

Still, teachers, critics and experts evaluate art all the time. Perhaps the artistic tradition of portfolios will serve the role of capturing open-ended student work that isn't readily reduced to performance on a test. The student work itself, including student reflections on the journey of creating that work, may in its entirety be interpreted and understood by an audience of teachers, college admissions arbiters, employers, friends, family, experts and critics.

I've written previously about the notion of a student digital backpack wherein students and families own their data and which can include everything from test scores to rich digital portfolios. Although the need for standard privacy and data-sharing policies is as yet unmet, and the structure of such backpacks may not yet be fully conceived, the good news, once again, is that the technology degrades gracefully. An IT roadmap that includes cloud-based, student-controlled portfolios today will support a migration to systems that provide privacy management and evolving mechanisms for demonstrating achievements, performance, and student work in the future.

It is a fairly small technical shift, though a potentially significant conceptual leap, for schools to change from the current kinds of planning that tends to include lots of locally maintained servers and fixed computer labs to planning for mobile devices and cloud computing provided as a service to schools. Regardless of the hardware, software, and bandwidth a school currently has available, planning for this emergent infrastructure will provide critically needed flexibility over the next decade.

There are many examples that highlight this need, but the lens of gaming and gamification make a point that can be overlooked when discussing the use of technology in education: we learn best by doing, we learn best in authentic situations, we learn best socially, and we learn best playfully. These elements can be seen in the best classrooms, regardless of whether technology is involved — from gold stars for recognizing achievements, to students collaborating on a meaningful community project, to young people engaging in open-ended inquiry. The risk is that as we move to more digitally supported and mediated teaching and learning, these best traditions and practices might be lost. Thoughtful roadmapping of technology that supports both Warcraft-like and Minecraft-like student work can help keep these practices central.


November 04 2011

World of Warcraft and Minecraft: Models for our educational system?

What is wrong with schools that there is so much discussion about how to fix them through gamification? One perspective is that students are unmotivated by school but obsessed with gaming — perhaps a game-like structure for school would make students as passionate about solving quadratic equations as killing monsters. Another perspective is that students are not being prepared for a 21st-century workforce — perhaps the collaborative requirements of online guilds and group challenges would help them gain the skills needed to work in a global environment. A third perspective is that school has lost any authentic connection with real life — perhaps introducing playfulness will create more relevance and authenticity.

Numerous game-like technology approaches for learning have been known to improve test scores among low-performing students. Computer-based learning that allows students to proceed at their own pace, to slow down and repeat subjects when they get stuck, to skip material they have already mastered, and to have a digital dashboard that lets them know how far they've come seem to help students stay more engaged — at least when combined with guidance and support from an excellent teacher. As these elements parallel many of the mechanics of games like World of Warcraft (WoW) it is not implausible to think of including them in both digital and brick-and-mortar learning in the hopes of creating significantly increased engagement and achievement on the part of students.

World of Warcraft and education

There are some powerful ideas in this approach, including the most common gamification mechanism: leveling up. Traditionally, students learn one day at a time. "What are the new example problems, and can I reproduce the process of solving them? What will be on the test?" In this model, the goal is the grade, not understanding, and the game is school. If done well, implementing a leveling-up metaphor can help shift a student's mindset to one in which the game is learning and the grade is a side effect of getting better. "What do I need to understand in order to reach the next level?" Generally, this requires that the levels are awarded as indications of genuine accomplishment as opposed to being expected to have intrinsic motivational value.

Another common mechanism is "unlocking" new content: one can imagine a math curriculum being broken up into smaller modules that allow a student to choose what skills to "unlock" next, increasing ownership and autonomy in a way that is associated with increased motivation. "Achieves" (acknowledgement of having accomplished something significant) can motivate students to explore more widely. Leaderboards can stimulate competition and peer pressure to succeed. With careful design, the structure can create an environment that supports both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for personal achievement using traditional gamification tools that parallel the leveling aspects of games like WoW.

Screenshot from World of Warcraft Cataclysm
Screenshot from "World of Warcraft Cataclysm."

The challenge with the gamification approach as described so far is that it doesn't address the whole story. What education has found over the past decade by incentivizing improved test scores is that those come at the cost of other forms of student achievement. For instance, a student who can achieve proficiency on a state math test may be able to solve rote problems and perform computation, but not know how to apply those skills to challenges in the real world that require higher-order thinking. More importantly, competency in these basic skills may not be enough to prepare a student for work in a global economy. There is a growing emphasis in education on 21st-century skills such as collaboration and communication — skills that advanced players of WoW must master in order to succeed in dungeons, battle grounds, and raids; those aspects of the game that require groups or teams.

Leveling up in WoW means solving problems (quests) and grinding (tedious monster-killing that gains experience points), and requires only basic skills. You measure success by your level, and you gain levels faster by becoming faster at questing and defeating monsters. The key statistic in how quickly a monster goes down is the "damage per second" (DPS) that your character can deal. Optimizing DPS is challenging and takes both practice and analysis, but in the end, great DPS only gets you so far. WoW is not just an online game. Like the real world, it is massively multiplayer, and much of the game, including all of the advanced gaming, involves working with teams to achieve challenging objectives. While statistics like DPS and others provide the minimum requirements for entry into advanced team gaming, you will only be able to participate if the rest of the group accepts you as a team member. This requires a more advanced knowledge of the challenges, collaboration and teamwork, communication, and other 21st-century skills. (The relationship between massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) and 21st-century skills has been described for years by Marc Prensky and John Seely Brown.)

There is no point system in WoW to grade you as a team player — there is only your reputation. Other players include and invite you based on your value as they see it — a combination of your performance and their biases. Similarly, in school, there are currently no digital assessments that can predict the ability of a student to perform effectively on self-managed, collaborative teams once they enter the workforce, yet preparation for work or college is one of the top goals of K-12 education.

That's not to say that there is no performance data available — it just requires human interpretation. In WoW, raid leaders download spreadsheets with data on every action of every character and its effect — data that is available because the game is digital. This data is used to determine the performance of the players and the effectiveness of their strategies. Combined with first-hand experience of collaborating with each player, this data can provide a well-rounded picture to an experienced raid leader. Analogously, in schools, one could imagine that digitally mediated group projects might yield data that would help an educator understand how a student was performing as a collaborator and a communicator. Of course, teachers do this without technology all the time; but with large classes and little time, they are exposed to only a fraction of the work and interactions that are actually happening in teams.

A personalized education can parallel WoW on two levels — in the first, a shared standard for success lets the student "level up" based on mastery rather than moving through the system based on seat time. In the second, shared common goals give the student the opportunity to demonstrate 21st-century skills such as collaboration and communication. But this interpretation of gamification still falls short of the big picture. Life doesn't have the pre-defined goals at which these structures are designed to help us succeed; whether work does or not depends largely on the work environment, far more than on the nature of the work.

Minecraft and education

If part of college or work preparation also involves gaining experience and confidence with open exploration, curiosity, creativity, and following a hunch or an interest without knowing where it will lead, let's shift our metaphor from Warcraft to Minecraft.

Screenshot from This is Minecraft video
Screenshot from "This is Minecraft" video.

Like Warcraft, Minecraft is a virtual world with a few simple rules. In a nutshell, the world is littered with materials that can be used for building things, a "craft table" for making things from raw materials, and optional monsters to battle. Unlike Warcraft, there are no pre-defined goals. Players may create adventure maps with all kinds of goals and challenges for other players, and these are wildly popular, but conquering a map doesn't get you points in a bigger game-wide contest.

Minecraft is about making stuff. Virtual stuff, but stuff nonetheless. It is also about exploration. In Minecraft, you can get lost and never find your way back, in which case your best option may be to cut your losses and move forward. In Minecraft, players make elaborate buildings, works of art, performance art (see the TNT videos on YouTube), and mini worlds and challenges for other players. Games like Minecraft can offer us a perspective on balancing the goal-based solving of problems with the open-ended finding of valuable questions — a skill education will need to provide to every new global citizen.

If there are things to learn from the notion of gamification, let's apply them at multiple levels, not superficially. We can learn from levels and leaderboards to add intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to help motivate students to succeed at traditional state standards and tests. We can learn from the structure of the human dynamics in massively multiplayer games to value and capture collaboration, communication, and other higher-order skills needed to achieve collective pre-defined goals. We can learn from simple rule-based (as opposed to goal-based) games to value and preserve the artifacts of exploration as well as its end products.


Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

September 16 2011

Four short links: 16 September 2011

  1. A Quick Buck by Copy and Paste -- scorching review of O'Reilly's Gamification by Design title. tl;dr: reviewer, he does not love. Tim responded on Google Plus. Also on the gamification wtfront, Mozilla Open Badges. It talks about establishing a part of online identity, but to me it feels a little like a Mozilla Open Gradients project would: cargocult-confusing the surface for the substance.
  2. Google + API Launched -- first piece of a Google + API is released. It provides read-only programmatic access to people, posts, checkins, and shares. Activities are retrieved as triples of (subject, verb, object), which is semweb cute and ticks the social object box, but is unlikely in present form to reverse Declining numbers of users.
  3. Cube -- open source time-series visualization software from Square, built on MongoDB, Node, and Redis. As Artur Bergman noted, the bigger news might be that Square is using MongoDB (known meh).
  4. Tenzing -- an SQL implementation on top of Map/Reduce. Tenzing supports a mostly complete SQL implementation (with several extensions) combined with several key characteristics such as heterogeneity, high performance, scalability, reliability, metadata awareness, low latency, support for columnar storage and structured data, and easy extensibility. Tenzing is currently used internally at Google by 1000+ employees and serves 10000+ queries per day over 1.5 petabytes of compressed data. In this paper, we describe the architecture and implementation of Tenzing, and present benchmarks of typical analytical queries. (via Raphaël Valyi)

September 09 2011

Top Stories: September 5-9, 2011

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

The new guy wants to hack the city's data
Instead of quietly settling in like most new residents, Tyler, Texas, transplant Christopher Groskopf is on a mission to find and unlock his new city's datasets.

RIP Michael S. Hart
Michael Hart was the founder of Project Gutenberg, an incredible visionary for online books, and someone who played an important role in Nat Torkington's life.

Look at Cook sets a high bar for open government data visualizations
One of the best recent efforts at visualizing open government data can be found at, which tracks government budgets and expenditures from 1993-2011 in Cook County, Illinois.

Master a new skill? Here's your badge
The Mozilla Foundation's Erin Knight talks about how the badges and open framework of the Open Badge Project could change what "counts" as learning.

The boffins and the luvvies
Whether we're discussing ancients versus moderns, scientists versus poets, or the latest variant — computer science versus humanities, the debate between science and art is persistent and quite old.

Strata Conference New York 2011, being held Sept. 22-23, covers the latest and best tools and technologies for data science — from gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and storing data to communicating data intelligence effectively. Save 30% on registration with the code ORM30.

September 08 2011

Master a new skill? Here's your badge

Open Badges ProjectEarning badges for learning new things is an entrenched idea. Legions of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have decorated their sashes with badges, demonstrating their mastery of various skills. A badge is a symbol of personal achievement that's acknowledged by others.

The Mozilla Foundation and Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU), among others, are working to create an alternative — and recognized — form of certification that combines merit-earned badges with an open framework. The Open Badges Project will allow skills and competencies to be tracked, assessed, and showcased.

In the interview below, I talk with the project director, Mozilla's Erin Knight (@eknight), about the genesis and goals of the Open Badges initiative.

How did the Open Badges project come about?

Erin Knight: At the core, it's really just a general acknowledgement that learning looks very different today than traditionally imagined. Legitimate and interest-driven learning is occurring through a multitude of channels outside of formal education, and yet much of that learning does not "count" in today's world. There is no real way to demonstrate that learning and transfer it across contexts or use it for real results.

We feel this is where badges can come in — they can provide evidence of learning, regardless of where it occurs or what it involves, and give learners tangible recognition for their skills, achievements, interests and affiliations that they can carry with them and share with key stakeholders, such as potential employers, formal institutions or peer communities.

This problem space is particularly interesting and important to Mozilla for a couple of reasons:

  1. It is our mission to promote the open web, get more people involved in making it and help people capitalize on the benefits and affordances of it. There is so much learning that is occurring, or could occur, through the web — through open education opportunities like P2PU, information hubs like Wikipedia, and even social media. We want to help people capitalize on these opportunities and make this learning count and get them real results.
  2. We also care about supporting and encouraging more people to become open web developers, and much of this learning is typically based on social, informal and personal experiences and work. For example, you may look at someone else's code on github to figure out how to solve a specific problem or tinker on your own to develop a deeper mastery. None of this is taught through a formal curriculum, and in fact, the space moves so quickly that formal curricula are often outdated by the time they can put a syllabus together. We want a way to acknowledge the work and skills of web developers at all stages of their careers, both to motivate them to learn new skills and become better as well as to connect them with jobs and opportunities.

Web 2.0 Expo New York 2011, being held Oct. 10-13, showcases the latest Web 2.0 business models, development tools and design strategies for the builders of the next-generation web.

Save 20% on registration with code WEBNY11RAD

Tell me about the technology infrastructure behind the Open Badges system. How do you validate a badge?

Erin Knight: One piece of the Open Badges initiative is the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI). This came out of early conversations. We spent a lot of time talking about core aspects of an individual badge system: What are the badges? What does assessment look like? How do we ensure validity? We realized quite quickly that to truly solve the problems we are trying to solve and to support learners wherever they are learning, we were not just talking about a badge system, but a badge ecosystem.

In this ecosystem, there would be many badge issuers offering different types of badges for different learning experiences, and each learner could earn badges across issuers and experiences. This requires that badge systems work together and are interoperable for the learner.

The big missing piece was a core infrastructure that could support a multitude of issuers, allow a learner to collect badges into a single collection tied to his or her identity, and then connect to many display sites or consumers to extend the value of the badges. This middle "plumbing" needs to be open and decentralized because if this is as successful as we all think it can be, we are talking about critical identity information here. It's important that the user remain in complete control.

We're building this to be as open and decentralized as possible. All elements, including the Hub, or main badge manifest repository, and the Backpack(s) — the user interface on the Hub (users will have their own Backpacks showing them all of their badges and allowing them to manage, control and share out badges) — are being built open source and extensible so that anyone can create their own instance. Mozilla will build and host the reference implementations, but we want to support decentralization as much as possible.

We're also working with a large advisory group with representation that spans informal education providers, academia, federal agencies, and development communities to make sure that all of our assumptions and approaches are fully vetted and thought through from multiple perspectives and interests. And finally, we're building this to be as lightweight as possible, especially at this point so early in the game, and pushing the innovation to the edge. This means that issuers completely control and decide what their badges are, how they are earned, and so forth. And on the other end, displayers control how badges are displayed, such as with filters or visualizations, etc. We want the OBI to support innovation, not constrain it in any way.

How do badges benefit learners and badge issuers?

Erin Knight: The OBI supports an open and decentralized badge ecosystem where the value of learning experiences can be extended to very real results very easily. It gives the learners the ability to earn lots of different badges across lots of different experiences and not only combine them into one big collection, but remix them into subgroups to share with specific audiences. This allows learners to tell complete stories about themselves, backed by the badges and the evidence they are linked to.

For the issuers, the platform allows them to support the learners further, extend the value of the opportunities they provide, and promote themselves through the badges. For the displayers, they can pull more information backed by evidence into profiles, job opportunities, etc., as well as discover people based on badges.

Is there a connection between the Open Badges project and gamification?

Erin Knight: There is an element of gamification in all of this in that we've all experienced badges or levels in games, and we know that they can be motivating. That's important. Badges will range from smaller motivational badges, to larger certification-type badges, but as people are designing badge systems, many of the principles of game design do and should apply. Badges from game providers will be important for the ecosystem because they represent reputation, identity and achievement that will be valuable for some users in various contexts.

Where does the Open Badges project go from here?

Erin Knight: We're working on developing a number of badge systems for Mozilla projects, including the School of Webcraft; a partnership with P2PU offering free, open opportunities for web developer training; and Hackasaurus, a program to get youth involved in hacking and building the open web.

On the Open Badge Infrastructure front, the goal is for this to be completely open and accessible to anyone who wants to be an issuer (push badges in) or a displayer/consumer (pull badges out). We are developing and releasing a set of APIs and a badge metadata spec, and we're launching the beta version of the OBI by mid September. It will be a critical feature-complete infrastructure with a number of initial issuers.

Anyone interested in participating in that beta can contact me via Twitter @eknight. We plan to publicly release the OBI, the metadata spec and APIs in early January 2012. At that point, all the documentation and code samples will be there so anyone can plug in. For more information, people can check out MozillaWiki and "An Open Badge System Framework."

This interview was edited and condensed.


August 31 2011

Four short links: 31 August 2011

  1. OSMdroid -- The OpenStreetMapView is a (almost) full/free replacement for Android's MapView class. Also see this tutorial. (via Simon Gianoutsos)
  2. 10 Immutable Laws of Security (Microsoft) -- an oldie but a goodie. Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.
  3. What's in The Trough? (BERG London) -- as a predictor or similar tool for action, the Gartner Hype Cycle is comically useless. As a tool for brainstorming, as BERG point out, it's fantastic.
  4. JP Rangaswami's Enterprise Gamification (Livestream) -- video of JP's "Enterprise Gamification" talk. As Kevin Slavin points out, the introduction is cheesily bad but the talk is pantswettingly good.

August 10 2011

June 21 2011

Four short links: 21 June 2011

  1. tmux -- GNU Screen-alike, with vertical splits and other goodies. (via Hacker News)
  2. Gamifying Education (Escapist) -- a more thoughtful and reasoned approach than crude badgification, but I'd still feel happier meddling with kids' minds if there was research to show efficacy and distribution of results. (via Ed Yong)
  3. Rule of 72 (Terry Jones) -- common piece of financial mental math, but useful outside finance when you're calculating any kind of exponential growth (e.g., bad algorithms). (via Tim O'Reilly)
  4. Spam Hits the Kindle Bookstore (Reuters) -- create a system of incentives and it will be gamed, whether it's tax law, search engines, or ebook stores. Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word. (via Clive Thompson)

June 17 2011

Four short links: 17 June 2011

  1. Don't Play Games With Me -- slides from an excellent talk about games and gamification. (via Andy Baio)
  2. All Your Bitcoins Are Ours (Symantec) -- a trojan in the wild that targets the wallet.dat file and transfers your bitcoins out. If you use Bitcoins, you have the option to encrypt your wallet and we recommend that you choose a strong password for this in the event that an attacker is attempting to brute-force your wallet open. (via Hacker News)
  3. FT Escapes the App Trap (Simon Phipps) -- Financial Times dropping their iOS app and moving to HTML5, to escape the App Store commissions. As Simon points out, they're also losing the sales channel benefits of the App Store. Facebook are doing similar. (via Tim O'Reilly)
  4. Artur Bergman on SSDs (video) -- a short sweary rant he gave at Velocity, laying out the numbers for why you're an idiot not to use SSDs.

June 15 2011

Gamification has issues, but they aren't the ones everyone focuses on

Critics of the gamification movement — mostly composed of academics and traditional game developers — have written a range of impassioned blog posts and gone on rants at legacy game industry events.

I think you deserve to hear a good, substantive critique of gamification. That's why I ensured that opposing viewpoints were heard — unobstructed — at GSummit in San Francisco, and why they will once again be front and center at Gamification Summit NYC in September. That's also why I've decided to write an earnest critique of gamification here. I'll present the arguments that I think are meaningful and important, and you can decide if you agree. Constructive dialogue welcome.

Let's get a few common arguments out of the way up front.

First, that the word "gamification" itself is inappropriate or bad. The term has entered the popular lexicon, rising from nearly zero hits on Google 18 months ago, to around 900,000 today (and climbing). As with most powerful tech neologisms, it's probably not going anywhere, and no small part of its success is that it genuinely is the first viable term to encapsulate the concept of using game concepts outside of games. It has also hit the zeitgeist at the appropriate time.

gamification interest chart
This chart shows interest in gamification from January 2010 to June 2011. (Click for additional information from Google Insights for Search.)

Semantically, many game developers also argue that gamification demeans "games," quickly forgetting the fluidity of market categorization. At one time or another in the past decade, casinos, amusement parks, virtual worlds, casual, mobile and social games have all been questioned as belonging to the games industry. The simplest and best argument I've heard for this was made by Nick Fortugno, co-founder of Playmatics and designer of hit casual game Diner Dash: "Gamification is to games as jingles are to music." In summary: they are different but related disciplines that leverage similar techniques and technologies.

The argument made most often, and least compellingly by detractors is in essence that bad gamification is bad. Sometimes this takes on a solipsistic angle ("I don't like Farmville, so it's bad"), and is almost always condescending to the hundreds of millions of people who engage actively with these gamified experiences. These critics seem to be arguing that if marketers, enterprise architects, HR professionals or product designers get hold of game mechanics, they are certain to demean the art form (worst-case) or build something pointless (best-case).

Obviously, these arguments are circular. Any bad design is inherently bad — and terrible games suck just as much as bad film (though with generally far less camp value). Every game designer has some successes, and some failures — the same is true of most marketers, product designers, book publishers and entrepreneurs. Businesses seeking gamification almost always want to hire skilled, experienced game design talent — and I believe the market will demand more than 10,000 trained designers in the coming decade for industry, government and non-profit gamified design. Game designers can readily be part of the solution if they choose.

Now let's talk about the important stuff. In my opinion, there are three credible concerns about gamification that require further scientific inquiry and should be explored.

Deal of the Day
Save 50% on both new titles from Gabe Zichermann.

One day only. Use discount code DDGMP in the shopping cart. This offer may not be combined with other offers.

Ebooks from are DRM-free. You get free lifetime access, multiple file formats, and free updates.

Was: $69.98
Now: $34.98
(Save 50%)

Add to cart

Replacement and over-justification

In my undergraduate work, I studied the psychology of gifted children. Prominently featured in the literature was a concept called over-justification. In over-justification, children who are intrinsically motivated toward a specific activity — playing piano, say — can have that intrinsic desire extinguished by the introduction and subsequent removal of extrinsic rewards, such as trophies or cash. So even if your child always loved to play the piano, winning and then losing at conservatory competitions may stop your child's piano playing for good. In a sense, their intrinsic desire to play was extinguished by a failure to maintain continuous rewards from the outside reward system.

Though the behavior extinguishment loop is well documented, what to do about it is another issue entirely. Taken to its logical extreme, this phenomenon argues for the complete elimination of external reward and competition. It would seem that in order to preserve intrinsic motivation, parents should never encourage their children to compete at something they naturally care about, lest that spark be eliminated.

Obviously, that's facile. Competition is part of our society and always has been. Moreover, extrinsic rewards are essential in capitalism (our salaries, bonuses, dividends, titles, etc. are all forms of extrinsic rewards). We can't remove them without dismantling our economy — and why would we? If you are successful at pursuing your intrinsic dreams, over-justification isn't a problem; successful piano players generally don't suffer a lack of motivation. The best thing parents (and designers) can do with the knowledge of over-justification is to teach children how to combat negative reinforcement so they have the emotional strength to overcome adversity.

But if intrinsic motivations are ignored in gamified design, the resulting product is likely to be shallow, with engagement loops to match. This means that aligning internal and external benefits makes gamified apps that much better. It also means that gamified apps that are designed from scratch have an inherent advantage over those where gamification is added later.

True cost of ownership

As a relatively new field, total cost of ownership is a misunderstood concept in gamification. In most kinds of marketing programs — even those with long lifespans — there are finite ends to promotions based on either time or budget. By contrast, gamified systems are more like multiplayer online games and loyalty programs. Once users become accustomed to the interactions we design, they expect the rewards to continue and evolve with both their mastery and tastes.

Even a few years ago, gamifying something meant building the whole tech infrastructure from scratch — a costly exercise that is no longer necessary due to the work of companies like Badgeville and BunchBall. Today, the biggest up-front cost of gamifying something is in the design and testing — which is a boon to the market. However, there are critical ongoing costs that are not always obvious, including compliance/legal costs and economic balancing (if you're running a virtual economy), community management and policing, and continuous creative (avatars, challenges, etc). If you use agile techniques to roll out gamification, you can optimize the chances of success and phase investment accordingly. Regardless, if you do your job right, gamification is a multi-year project, and you must budget and prepare accordingly.


Although we have many successful implementations, the long-term effect of gamification on users is only starting to be understood. As with over-justification, we can make certain assumptions based on the psychological literature and comparable experiences, but we lack direct data on harmful effects.

One thing that we can and must take responsibility for up-front is
the potential for people to become addicted to — and
substantially influenced by — gamified experiences. Unlike our
peers in the casino industry who advocate a Randian view of free will,
and game designers who repeatedly claim that users can easily
distinguish fact from fiction, gamification shows us a more nuanced

Games are the most powerful source of non-coercive influence in the world, and are frequently designed with mild addiction and extreme flow in mind. The latter effect in particular puts users into a state where they are markedly more likely to accept what the system tells them, and to respond to its stimuli (if only just to beat the level). We cannot continue to argue the power of games to teach and engage on one hand while ignoring the other side of the coin.

That's why I advocate a voluntary code of conduct for gamification design that vastly exceeds an ethics dialogue — let alone standards of conduct — in games and gambling. At its heart, the core concept is to allow users to make informed choices about their engagement. It also means not using these techniques for anything that would cause direct harm to users.

Without exception, every gamification project I've been involved with has had good intentions, and I've seen little reason to worry about nefarious actors. Game designers often like to see an epic battle between good and evil — even where there isn't one — but that's part of the charm. Even if there is no current threat of harm from gamification designers, we should nonetheless have the dialogue.

Fundamentally, gamification is a new industry and discipline that is delivering unprecedented results across many different verticals. The concept's meteoric ascendance has given rise to a number of debates, most of which have yet to capture meaningful issues in the discussion. In outlining three viable concerns — over-justification, total cost of ownership and addiction/compulsion — I've endeavored to share some of the more substantive issues that should be front and center in the dialogue.

Headed to OSCON in July? Be sure to catch Gabe's session on using fun and engagement to build great software.


April 29 2011

Four short links: 29 April 2011

  1. Kathy Sierra Nails Gamification -- I rarely link to things on O'Reilly sites, and have never before linked to something on Radar, but the comments here from Kathy Sierra are fantastic. She nails what makes me queasy about shallow gamification behaviours: replacing innate rewards with artificial ones papers over shitty products/experiences instead of fixing them, and don't get people to a flow state. what is truly potentially motivating for its own sake (like getting people to try snowboarding the first few times... The beer may be what gets them there, but the feeling of flying through fresh powder is what sustains it, but only if we quit making it Just About The Beer and frickin teach them to fly). (via Jim Stogdill)
  2. Patient Driven Social Network Refutes Study, Publishes Its Own Results -- The health-data-sharing website PatientsLikeMe published what it is calling a “patient-initiated observational study” refuting a 2008 report that found the drug lithium carbonate could slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. The new findings were published earlier this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology. (via mthomps)
  3. Corporate Transparency -- learn where, when and by whom your chocolate bar was made, from which chocolate stock, etc. This kind of traceability and provenance information is underrated in business. (via Jim Stogdill)
  4. SPDY -- Google's effort to replace HTTP with something faster. It has been the protocol between Chrome and Google's servers, now they hope it will go wider. All connections are encrypted and compressed out of the box.

April 26 2011

The purpose of gamification

Point A to Point BFrequently couched either as a question about demographics or as a personal statement ("I don't ever play games"), gamification is dogged by questions of suitability of purpose, appropriateness of context, or even the semantic conflict around the use of the word "games" itself. Whether you fall into the supporter or detractor camp, you can't argue that gamification is inspiring debate and raising questions: play vs. work, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, authenticity vs. contrivance, just to name a few.

So perhaps the best place to start addressing these issues is with the basics: what can gamification do, why do we care, and what are its limitations.

Gamification's main purpose is to help people get from point A to point B in their lives — whether that's viewed through the lens of personal growth, societal improvement or marketing engagement. We all have the intrinsic desire to be the best possible people we can be, and to make the world in our image of its maximum potential. However, most of us lack the systems thinking (and discipline) required to get to that goal. What games do well is expose complex, learnable systems that users can engage with to achieve personal mastery — and thus accomplish something aspirational.

Weight Watchers is an example. If you ask someone who has successfully lost weight how he or she did it, they might answer with an emphatic "Weight Watchers!" What they don't say is "diet and exercise," which is actually what they did to lose the weight, regardless of pedagogy. Mastering the system — in this case Weight Watchers' gamey approach of points, levels, challenges, leader boards, etc. — becomes what the user most identifies with as having caused their success.

In this way, creating complex systems that can readily be mastered by users across a span of time produces a unique affinity between player and brand. If successful, it's a lifelong connection that transcends the mere exchange of cash and clicks common to most commercial connections. Good gamification has more in common with other complex systems in the world around us than it does with games, per se.

In tactical terms, gamification can be thought of as using some elements of game systems in the cause of a business objective. It's easiest to identify the trend with experiences (frequent flyer programs, Nike Running/Nike+ or Foursquare) that feel immediately game-like. The presence of key game mechanics, such as points, badges, levels, challenges, leader boards, rewards and onboarding, are signals that a game is taking place. Increasingly however, gamification is being used to create experiences that use the power of games without being quite as explicit. In spheres as diverse as HR, healthcare, finance, government and education, companies are pushing the envelope of engaging design with things they learned playing Farmville or World of Warcraft — without trying to build the next Salesforce-branded Angry Birds clone.

One of the biggest weaknesses of gamification lies in the motivation of its creators. While game designers generally credit themselves with a benevolent desire to expand consciousness, most marketing folks don't have the same inclination. So gamification efforts have come under criticism from many in the games industry for being shallow — that is, lacking the narrative quality of games made with a pure entertainment motive.

However, gamification is providing marketers with a new, measurable discipline that can improve the quality of game-product interaction. Over the past decade, there have been a number of false starts between games and brands — notably in advergaming (fully brand-centric games) and in-game advertising (putting ads into fictional games). Neither of these categories has been hugely successful, mostly because they failed to take into consideration the user's conflicting motivation for playing games and consuming commercials.

What gamification does is allow marketers to focus on what they know best — convincing consumers to take loyalty and purchasing actions — using a powerful toolkit of engagement gleaned from games. Armed with a new understanding of what makes people tick, and how to wind them up, marketers can build experiences that are enduring and engaging.

Of course, some gamified efforts will be weak and shallow, trying to overcome bad products or poor design with badges and incentives. Any good marketer knows this isn't a good long-term strategy. Most of the brands that I work with are very clear on the need for fundamentals: gamification is no panacea. And though there have been some duds, I'm quite confident that the overarching trend is for the use of good mechanics with good products to create value in every ecosystem.

I'm also certain that gamification, and the underlying motivations to succeed and connect that it exposes, are not just for kids. The evidence of this is all around us. Whether it's jostling for attention at a bar on Friday night or on a conference panel, making sure our kids get into a good college or getting that promotion at work, adults definitely care about mastering systems.

Gamification makes it possible for big brands and startups alike to engage us in meaningful and interesting ways, with an eye on aligning our personal motivations with their business objectives. The net product of this effort will be more engagement, better products and — generally — more fun and play in all spheres of our lives.

Gamification Master Class: How can game mechanics and game design help you deliver an engaging experience to your customers? This video master class shows you how to take advantage of gamification. You can also check out an early release of the forthcoming book "Gamification by Design."


April 12 2011

Four short links: 12 April 2011

  1. The Email Game -- game mechanics to get you answering email more efficiently. Can't wait to hear that conversation with corporate IT. "You want us to install what on the Exchange server?" (via Demo Day Wrapup)
  2. Stratified B-trees and versioning dictionaries -- A classic versioned data structure in storage and computer science is the copy-on-write (CoW) B-tree -- it underlies many of today's file systems and databases, including WAFL, ZFS, Btrfs and more. Unfortunately, it doesn't inherit the B-tree's optimality properties; it has poor space utilization, cannot offer fast updates, and relies on random IO to scale. Yet, nothing better has been developed since. We describe the `stratified B-tree', which beats all known semi-external memory versioned B-trees, including the CoW B-tree. In particular, it is the first versioned dictionary to achieve optimal tradeoffs between space, query and update performance. (via Bob Ippolito)
  3. DisplayCabinet (Ben Bashford) -- We embedded a group of inanimate ornamental objects with RFID tags. Totems or avatars that represent either people, products or services. We also added RFID tags to a set of house keys and a wallet. Functional things that you carry with you. This group of objects combine with a set of shelves containing a hidden projector and RFID reader to become DisplayCabinet. (via Chris Heathcote)
  4. shairport -- Aussie pulled the encryption keys from an Airport Express device, so now you can have software pretend to be an Airport Express.

March 07 2011

Four short links: 7 March 2011

  1. DigitalKoot -- Playing games in Digitalkoot fixes mistakes in our index of old Finnish newspapers. This greatly increases the accuracy of text-based searches of the newspaper archives. (via Springwise and Imran Ali on Twitter)
  2. Some Things That Need To Be Said (Amanda Hocking) -- A.H. is selling a lot of copies of her ebooks, and she cautions against thinking hers is an easily reproduced model. First, I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn't writing a book. Middlemen give you time in exchange for money. Second, By all accounts, he has done the same things I did, even writing in the same genre and pricing the books low. And he's even a better writer than I am. So why am I selling more books than he is? I don't know. I'm reminded of Duncan Watts's work MusicLab which showed that "hits" aren't predictable. It's entirely possible to duplicate Amanda's efforts and not replicate her success.
  3. A Literary Appreciation of the Olson Timezone Database -- timezones are fickle political creations, and this is a wonderful tribute to the one database which ruled them all for 25 years.
  4. TileMill -- a tool for cartographers to quickly and easily design maps for the web using custom data. Open source, built on Mapnik.

March 01 2011

Four short links: 1 March 2011

  1. Implementing Open Standards in Open Source (Larry Rosen) -- Companies try to control specifications because they want to control software that implements those specifications. This is often incompatible with the freedom promised by open source principles that allow anyone to create and distribute copies and derivative works without restriction. This article explores ways that are available to compromise that incompatibility and to make open standards work for open source. (via Sam Ruby)
  2. Easy WebSocket -- simple Javascript client for WebSockets. (via Lucas Gonze on Twitter)
  3. Essential Javascript Design Patterns -- updated book of Javascript design patterns.
  4. Social Mechanics (Raph Koster) -- a taxonomy of social mechanics in games. See also Alice Taylor's notes. (via BoingBoing)

October 27 2010

Gaming education

There are at least three different classes of digital games in schools. Which you prefer speaks volumes about the role you believe schools should play.

The first group, the classic edu-tech games, have danced in and out of schools for so long that many kids take them for granted. Most of these programs are cute, but they fall short on pedagogical ambitions and graphic design. That doesn't make them worthless; it just limits their effectiveness. (One person's drill-and-kill can indeed be another's guiding light. When educator and blogger extraordinaire, Scott McLeod, asked, "Do most educational games suck?" he drew fire from just about all sides.)

By contrast, a handful of educators a few years ago sought to put game controls directly into students' hands by teaching them how to build their own games. Scratch, developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT's Media Lab, is the reigning champion here. (Here's more of my take on Scratch). There are a few others, too, including Microsoft's Kudo, a programming language that kids can use to build games for the Xbox game platform.

Screen from The Fly, a game built with Scratch
Screen from "The Fly," a game built with Scratch.

And now comes what I would dub a third approach, something that has picked up its very own buzzword before it has even reached most school gates: gamification. The term is as elegant as a teenager jawing a mouthful of bubble gum. But it suggests adding far more sophisticated game mechanics to applications -- no matter how stuffy or serious the application has been. Gamification probably has more momentum outside of schools than in. Case in point: Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat has written about how DevHub, a place for web developers, added gaming feedback and watched in awe as the percentage of users who finished their sites shot up from 10 percent to 80 percent.

Most games are naturally social, which means gamification depends on that other ubiquitous web trend, social networking. Sure, go ahead and play Solitaire. But most of us take a certain pleasure in besting the competition -- whether it's the Philadelphia Phillies or some ugly troll in World of Warcraft.

Academics are creating a skin of respectability for gamification. Byron Reeves of Stanford University has recently co-authored "Total Engagement" to outline his ideas about how gaming can turn the erstwhile plodding company man into an engaged and motivated worker. (Reeves is also putting his ideas to the test by co-founding a consulting firm, Seriousity, that will coach companies on how to do this.) The first gamification summit is slated to take place in January in San Francisco.

What does each of these approaches say about education?

The first type of games were willing to entertain kids to keep them engaged -- the "just-make-it-fun" school of thought. But any standup comedian will tell you how tough it is to keep people entertained for long. It's even harder with kids who outgrow the "fun" of a game faster than most games can evolve.

The Scratch camp is more about empowerment. Scratch appeals enormously to kids who want to control their environment and be in charge. Those who build Scratch games get feedback from others when they post their games. They say they love the comments and feel great when hundreds of others play their games.

Ultimately Scratch aficionados bring their ambitions to learn with them. I'd wager that if these kids were born a generation or two ago, they'd be building transistor radios. The Scratch kids have to be self-motivated: most use Scratch outside of school. No one makes them do it. All it took to get them going was for someone to introduce them to Scratch in the first place. That's a great argument for exposing more kids to the tools.

Gamification, by contrast, doesn't rely on internal motivation. Instead, it's using the oldest tricks in the book: providing instantaneous feedback, egging on the competition, and rewarding even tiny steps of progress. Gamification assumes that the player isn't especially motivated -- at least at the beginning -- and then provides barrels of incentives to ramp up that motivation.

I'm betting that gamification, in spite of its throat-clearing name, is going to be big in the commercial world -- and in schools. Gamification can help build kids' competitive spirits. As they gain confidence, they may become hungry for tools that put them in control. At the end of the day, those who know how to create the rules of the game, know how to win.


Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!