Aug 142011

This product review is based on my recent test drive of Jive 5, the newest major release of market leader Jive Software‘s online community platform. Putting my online community strategist hat on, I was in geek heaven for a week in a sandbox environment of Jive 5 with full administrator permissions.


While platform selection comes last in a POST-based implementation of a social business initiative, Jive 5 makes such huge strides overcoming technology obstacles to adoption of community platforms that when it comes to the technology selection stage in your implementation, you might want to consider Jive 5 first. Gartner just did in its most recent Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Social CRM software. Jive 5 has lots of innovation and very few areas for improvement (and those I saw are principally in the area of using live streaming online events as a content engagement strategy for online communities — an edge case, but in my opinion an important one).

My Jive 5 Test-Drive Take-Aways:

Jive 5’s radical UX redesign cuts activity streams down to what matters in business and helps community members get more done. Enterprise social software grows up. Jive 5 introduces a re-engineered and more efficient social UX that addresses end-user complaints about irrelevant, off-topic status updates and feed posts clogging and reducing the value of activity streams in enterprise social software.

Addressing these user turn-offs is another sign enterprise social software is growing up and raises the bar for competitors. Early community platforms adopted a flawed premise that feed posts should be hard-coded to go out to the entire membership, so that “everyone can dogpile on the issue and get it resolved faster”. In practice it turns out not everyone wants to dogpile on everyone else’s issues. Neither does everyone want to fossick through everyone else’s trivial status updates like “Good morning!” or “Go Jets!” before finding updates vital to their work.


Jive 5 introduces simple, powerful filtering tools that cut down activity streams to what you’re working on or interested in. You can view a stream of only people/documents/groups/content that you’re following. You can view only posts in which you are personally @mentioned — consider it your social inbox that prevents these vital items from being washed down the stream and escaping your notice.

You can further clean up your stream by clicking to hide posts that strike you as irrelevant to your day’s work. Want to view them later? They’re automatically placed into a “Hidden” tab where you can view them if you have time or unhide them. Or you can view an algorithmic “Matters Most” slice of your activity streams.

Jive 5’s newly redesigned activity streams (dubbed “What Matters” streams) also are further cross-divided into “Activity” (including content, likes, follows, ideas, questions), “Communications” (status updates), and “Actions” (projects, task assignments, required action alerts) — more social tools to filter, sort, and get things done.

If users only have time to login and see what’s new since their last visit, Jive 5 gives intuitive visual cues on the number of new feed-posts in your filtered streams so you can go directly to them and view only the newest comments or content additions. Individual feed-posts can be expanded to display inline previews to discover and interact with new social activity around a feed post without leaving the activity stream page — again reducing clicks, saving time, adding efficiency and increasing engagement.

Algorithmic “Trending People” and “Trending Content” widgets further ensure that you don’t miss what matters.

Taken as a whole, think of these stream-filtering options like the enterprise social software analog of the TweetDeck capability to search for users or keywords within a filtered column. No wonder Twitter bought TweetDeck — instant relevance. Of course, you can always view all activity from the community for any activity stream (“All”) and drink from the firehouse if you really want to.

In practical use, this means users working collaboratively on a project or a shared piece of content can knife directly to the social updates that are pertinent to it. They’ll also instantly surface any member-generated content or discussion that is relevant to it, drawing problem-solving knowledge from the entire community faster. Combined with Discussions, Groups, and Spaces (sub-communities within your community) which also topically focus discussion and content for easier discovery, Jive’s new stream-filtering is a game-changer for organizations who want to launch a successful social business initiative, unlocking the power of member knowledge sharing with more relevance and focus.

New “Create” element in main navigation addresses community managers’ complaint that it’s hard to get community members to contribute content and ideas. Jive 5’s UX promotes the task-path to add ideas or content to the community directly into the community’s main navigation bar. This inspired stroke of innovation of adding “Create” to such a high level in the user experience raises user-generated content to top-level visibility and reduces the steps required to add content or ideas to a two-click operation. The “Create” element in main nav should dramatically reduce the user-abandonment that occurs when users have to poke around a traditional community site trying and failing to find the right group or space to place content into before they can contribute something vital.


“Flippable” people search/browse results let you follow, message, and start discussion with people without leaving the people search results or browse results page. Jive 5 makes it easier to make connections and build up activity streams of followed people by redesigning people search results and browsing results to be “flippable”, exposing follow, message and start discussion actions without leaving the results page.


Each people search or browse result is a like a card with a UI element to flip it over and engage directly with the person via these social actions. Notice that Curtis Frandsen in the image above has been flipped so I can quickly follow him without leaving the people browse results page. Of course, you can click the person directly to leave the results page and view their complete profile page. But surfacing social connections higher in the UX should result in more follows, messages and discussions and positively impact a new user’s satisfaction with the community platform.

Faceted Search helps users pinpoint experts in the community, relevant content and places faster. The chief navigation mechanism on social software platforms is still search, and Jive 5 slices search results into four views to get users what they’re looking for faster. The facets are: content, people, places, and all. People search or browse results can be filtered to show all, users you follow, users who are following you, users you’ve recently viewed, users recommended to you by Jive Genius (a Netflix-like recommendation engine), or users related to you in an org chart. Jive claims to be the only community platform with faceted search.











“Ideation” feature streamlines member idea submission and member voting on ideas to surface the best member-generated ideas that can help drive your business. As a Jive administrator, you can activate “Ideation” which allows members of the community to contribute ideas and to vote on the ideas of others, producing a real-time tally of top ideas ready to harvest and help drive your business.


Simple, intuitive admin capabilities for your community, including drag-and-drop widget layouts. No two communities are alike, and matching the social platform functionality that you configure with the unique needs of your target members (and with your business goals) is critical. That’s why Jive has learned to take care to include a strategic consulting team in its sales and implementation process. After working with stakeholders in the community to determine what social interaction types are desired among members, Jive consultants use their empirical data on which widgets drive the desired behaviors to produce a “community blueprint”. This includes the admin configuration and set-up of your Jive community.

To be sure, setting up page layouts, widget configurations, activity streams, private-branded look-and-feel, user permissions, groups, content, etc. may be something you do as a mainly once-and-done process before the launch of your community. But Jive 5 makes it extremely easy.

Each page is editable with drag-and-drop controls that let you browse a robust category-based widget library and simply drag the widget onto your page. Widget categories include content, places, people and other. Each category contains a robust menu of widgets. For example, the “content” category includes: featured content, latest poll, popular blog posts, popular content, popular tags, popular videos, recent activity, recent blog posts, recent content, recent ideas, recent videos, top ideas, top liked content, top rated content, unanswered questions. People, places and other widget categories also contain a robust menu of selections. Once a widget has been added to a page, it can be dragged to a different position, much like the widgets in iGoogle, or it can be further configured, or deleted.


The admin console in Jive 5 is very intuitive and lets a community admin control settings, content and users in a variety of areas including system, spaces, blogs, people, permissions, reporting, apps, ideas, and mobile.

To be sure, more advanced Jive implementations like  that by CSC go so far as to hire full-time Jive Engineers to continually customize their platform for unique community engagement needs. It’s good to know Jive is so customizable. But the core admin capabilities are great.


Jive Apps Market Integration. Jive has been successful in establishing its technology as a platform that software partners will build apps for. This powerfully extends what Jive can do beyond its baseline functionality., Atlassian Jira, Sharepoint Lists, and Tungle are just a few of dozens of apps in the Jive Apps Market. In Jive Five, apps from the Apps Market can be purchased and added directly from the Jive community platform UX. Jive also offers the ability for organizations to create their own Jive App Market populated by custom Jive Apps they create.

Document Collaboration. Community members can import or create documents in Jive and collaboratively edit them to get work done faster. Jive’s document collaboration doesn’t work like Google Docs or Zoho (where multiple users can literally edit the same document during the same work session, rapidly locking and unlocking it in succession to make real-time edits). While the Google Docs collaboration model is cool, Jive document collaboration is more formal and in line with the way people use Microsoft Office. Edits can be made to a document by those authorized to edit it. But the edits are made one at a time by individual users in individual sessions with the document — not in real-time, multi-user group collaboration sessions.


Projects and Tasks. Basecamp it’s not. But Jive 5’s projects and tasks functionality is a serious enterprise toolset that lets your community members do project management and task-management within the community platform. It features task assignments, milestones/checkpoints, reminder alerts, project calendars, and of course social discussion, documents, and other content assets related to the project.


Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook connectors. Integration with Microsoft Outlook has been an extremely successful user adoption strategy for technology companies from Cisco Webex to YouSendIt.


Think of the number of “One-Click-Meetings” on Webex that you launch from Outlook. Jive 5’s Outlook integration wasn’t exposed in the sandbox environment I tested. But the idea behind Jive’s acquisition of OffiSync, a Seattle-based startup that makes social extensions for Microsoft Office, is to integrate Outlook email with a Jive social community, producing a synthesis perhaps something like (or beyond) what NutshellMail attempted to do with multiple social media outposts and the email inbox before it was acquired by marketing automation vendor Constant Contact. It is noteworthy that Facebook has created a unified messaging interface that combines email with social status updates, feed-posts, text messages, and chat in its Facebook Messages functionality. Jive’s Microsoft Office connector, also powered by technology from the OffiSync acquisition, wasn’t available in the sandbox environment I tested either. But the idea is to sync Office documents being collaborated on within a Jive Community to Office documents on individuals’ laptop or mobile device or with Office documents on a shared server.

SharePoint integration. Microsoft Sharepoint is one of the leading document-based collaboration platforms on the market, but it has lagged other enterprise social software offerings by lacking robust activity streams and a more social front-end.


This has created opportunity for community platform vendors like NewsGator, which add a fully-functional activity stream based social front end to SharePoint. Jive is now entering that market with SharePoint integration. Users and organizations benefit.



Time didn’t permit me to test drive other critical features of Jive 5, but I hope the takeaways noted above give a sense of what’s new in the product and how it may change the online community platform landscape and the adoption rate for this technology. I wasn’t able to test drive the Jive 5 iPad app. It will be introduced at JiveWorld in October. The Jive Facebook Connector — actually rolled out prior to Jive 5 — is another powerful capability I couldn’t test drive. The connector allows companies to integrate Facebook communities, fan pages and content into Jive communities, creating a semi-permeable concentric outer circle of Facebook community interaction around the inner circle of a Jive member-based community.

Perceived Areas For Improvement In Jive 5

Integration Of Online Events Into The Community Platform. Live streaming of online events is one of the most powerful content engagement programs driving existing and new potential members into an online community. Even Facebook recently supported integrations with LiveStream and UStream to harness the audience acquisition power that live online events bring to online communities. President Obama appeared in a town hall meeting hosted by Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook Live, Facebook’s LiveStream channel, earlier this year. This would be particularly useful for any communities that showcase professional development, education and training. My inquiries to Jive about its preferred method of integrating online events into Jive 5 communities have not yet been answered. I will update this post if I learn more.

Video uploads. In the sandbox Jive 5 environment I test drove, the only way I could discover to get an on-demand video into the community was to either upload it from my hard drive or to embed a YouTube URL in a status update. There was no way to embed a YouTube or other video URL while “creating content”. My sandbox didn’t include the Jive Video Module meant for managing and exposing libraries of online videos to community members. I couldn’t find the Brainshark online video presentation software Jive App in the Jive App Market. Oddly it was there last year but appears to have been removed.

What are your experiences with Jive 5? How do you think Jive 5 stacks up against other community platforms?


Credit for Social Enlightenment graphic: Jive Software

May 082011

Virtual event strategists may view The Community Roundtable‘s “State Of Community Management 2011” report as addressed to community managers, not to them. Should they?

The CR's Community Maturity Model (click to view larger)


One way of looking at it is that the report has only tangential relevance for virtual event strategists. After all, its Community Maturity Model (see image at left) lays out a multi-year process for growing community that assumes online communities are built with community platforms such as Jive, SocialText, Moxie, Yammer or Acquia — not with virtual event platforms running point-in-time events. Dion Hinchcliffe, in one of the most concise summaries of what community managers do, says they’re responsible for overseeing social activity on a network to achieve objectives such as eliciting participation and knowledge sharing, managing the organization’s community objectives, and providing support as well as the day-to-day maintenance and operation of the community itself. The CR writes that community managers serve as field guides leading their organizations through new social business terrain — a business transformation that flattens the organization’s communication hierarchy, enables culture change toward more collaboration, assumes organizations don’t own their brands anymore (users do), distributes leadership, promotes inclusive policies and governance, and rallies member activism. These are larger, more transformative, and longer-term business goals than those held by most virtual event strategists for the “community” aspect of their events. Functionally, community platform tools have a UX designed to capture, categorize and highlight community member-driven activity and enable member collaboration to occur year round. Members may visit for the content at first, but over time increasingly they come back for the community — the interaction between members. Most virtual event platforms, with their content-centric UX and supporting point-in-time chat windows, Twitter timelines and event-day staffing, are not designed or equipped to support persisting member-driven community evolution in this way.

Adding to this, as Velvet Chainsaw Consulting’s Dave Lutz said in a recent roundtable on hybrid events in the Focus expert community, most virtual event strategists know it’s unrealistic for one-hit conferences to grow a 365-day community in the first place. A 30-day, or multi-month, extension of the audience’s engagement with the event’s content is more achievable via a post-event drip marketing strategy. Ambitions for a 365-day virtual event “community” may make sense only in the corporate space, Lutz said, or for other organizations where learning, training and other ongoing collaborative initiatives provide a more solid value proposition to return year round.

Another View

Another view of the relevance of “The State Of Community Management 2011″ to virtual event strategists comes when looking at multi-event corporate virtual event programs and other ongoing virtual event initiatives.

Here, online community-building best practices may be about to thrust themselves into the world of virtual event strategy — and vice-versa.

Already, early-adopter organizations like Cisco, with its CiscoLive virtual community, are using virtual event platforms, a content engagement plan, fresh content programming, and drip marketing strategies to keep audience coming year round after a major event. Cisco’s Dannette Veale noted in a recent roundtable on the Focus expert community that the CiscoLive hybrid event is combined with regular Ask The Expert events, Cisco TechWise TV programming, and follow-on Webex workshops to create an average of five touches per month to bring audience back into the environment. To be sure, bringing a target audience back to consume freshly curated relevant content is a step toward igniting an online community. At a January Virtual Edge Summit panel, SAP’s Scott Schenker, advocated his organization’s abandonment of the “event” metaphor for virtual events altogether, replacing it with a “broadcast” metaphor more suited for engaging audience in event content online over long periods of time. Again, in strategies like driving audience back over time to the online version of SAP’s SAPPHIRE NOW event, the seeds of re-engaging audience with “broadcast” content over several months provide a spark that can help ignite an evolving online community.

But is curating fresh content on a virtual event platform and using a drip marketing strategy to drive eyeballs to it over time really building an online community in The Community Roundtable’s sense of the term?

Or, from the CMO’s perspective, are multi-month virtual event programs really a content engagement strategy waiting for an opportunity to support an online community that has formed somewhere else or yet to be formed?

Some thought leaders are suggesting that, while the jury is still out, the answer to this question may be yes. In a January Virtual Edge Summit panel, Cisco’s Sourabh Kothari noted that Cisco is now experimenting with running virtual events inside its Cisco Quad online community platform. Microsoft’s Mike Immerwahr reported that Microsoft has run virtual events inside its SharePoint business collaboration platform. These approaches would embed virtual events as content engagement functionality within a true online community. Clearly, Quad and SharePoint are precisely the type of community platforms assumed as a foundational tool for enterprise communities in The CR’s State Of Community Management 2011 report. Therefore they’re 100% applicable to the report’s transformative community management best practices which extend far beyond the nascent “communities” around virtual events today. In a recent roundtable on the Focus expert network Oracle’s Paul Salinger noted that his teams never try to create special event communities around any of their [virtual or hybrid] events. Rather, Salinger said he carefully considers that Oracle already has many online communities established, such as Oracle Mix, and “we look for the right [community] channels for people to continue to engage with one another” after the event is over. This approach takes an integrated marketing perspective and tries to create the optimal click paths and user journey to direct a virtual event attendee back to the proper place in an established online community where discussion and desired behaviors around virtual event content can continue. Once again, on a platform like Oracle Mix, the attendee is now interacting within exactly the kind of platform where transformative community management processes advocated in The CR’s State Of Community Management Report 2011 can take place.

Conclusions and Questions

Virtual event programs and social business initiatives are both just individual parts of the overall integrated communications mix at any organization. Ultimately, if the CMO wants virtual event audiences to become online community participants in order to strengthen the brand relationship, deepen engagement and drive desired behaviors, conversions and metrics, then community building and community management around virtual event content has to begin at some point.

What is the user journey, or handoff process, between virtual event and online community in your organization? How is it facilitated? How effective is it? And how is it measured? Or are virtual event programs and online community programs still siloed where you work?

Whose responsibility do you think it should be to transform virtual event attendees into the collaborative, inclusive, distributive and activist community members your organization needs in order to truly leverage social business?


Credit for Community Maturity Model diagram to The Community Roundtable.


Mar 172011

In a series of talks at Google, TED and SXSW, big ideas have been circulating in the emerging area of gamification. Revealing the psychological levers behind game mechanics and applying these mechanics to solving real-world problems, Sebastian Deterding, a UX designer and researcher, and Seth Priebatsch, founder and CEO of gamification platform startup SCVNGR, have emerged as two early thought leaders worth watching. Both contend that gamification, or making a non-game application more engaging by adding game-like features, is clearly more than a bolt-on marketing fad and even quite possibly the next big thing for the internet.

A few core ideas shared by both of these thought leaders are deconstructed from their recent talks below so that we may more readily consider applying them in our own projects.



Sebastian Deterding

For UX designers, software developers, marketers, and educators eager to apply gamification to increase user engagement and loyalty in their non-game products and processes, Sebastian Deterding’s Google Tech Talk is a can’t-miss on game mechanics and their underlying psychology.  Deterding’s points in “Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right” are so useful that they’re worth extracting from the YouTube, slides and speaker notes that he has provided.

Deterding dives into three elements he believes are key to high-engagement, high-loyalty games and gamification – meaning, mastery, and autonomy.

Meaning. To Deterding, game mechanics must be connected to something intrinsically meaningful to the user in order to drive engagement and loyalty. Otherwise they will produce a shallow feeling of novelty which will soon wear off and lead to abandonment. To illustrate, Deterding cites Arsenio Santos’ blog post on why he quit Foursquare. Santos found that achievements were the only benefit to playing the service. “Underneath the game mechanics, it didn’t provide anything of value or interest to him,” Deterding says. “He played around, discovered some stuff, and found there’s nothing really there for me.” By contrast, consider Stack Overflow (now being renamed StackExchange). “This service is a poster child for having reputation, points, and badges,” Deterding says, “But even if you take that away, it would still be immensely valuable for the user and meaningful.” One of Deterding’s slides quotes founder Aaron Patzer: “What we’ve learned from our users is that any game aspect has to be at least for finance oriented toward some specific thing that you are working toward: I want to buy a house or a car, take a vacation, get out of debt. Otherwise you have a system of points with no levels and no end game.”

When trying to ensure that the gamification experience has meaning, Deterding says designers should follow these important principles:

Connection to a meaningful goal. Gamification should be connected to some meaningful goal that the user brings to the platform. This can be accomplished via offering customizable, or user-defined goals, as in the site RescueTime. The goals needn’t be personal, but they should allow users to self-identify with an interest, passion or curiosity that they already have in their everyday life. Deterding finds a strong example because it allows users to self-identify with a number of different personal finance goals. This can be done with finance, health, fitness, science, sustainable behavior, really anything.

Connection to meaningful community of interest. Second, the gamification system must connect the user to a meaningful community of interest. Deterding parses the broad assertion by gamification vendors that the status and influence dynamic – i.e., the “bragging rights” for achieving a status or badge – is a core motivator for engagement. In order to brag in front of your friends, he adds, you should be showing off something they actually care about. Deterding cites the entertainment recommendations site as a negative example. GetGlue allows you to check in and like different items of pop entertainment and earn badges for completing those behaviors. “That is something that if it slips out as an auto-post [to Twitter or Facebook], I say ‘sheesh, I’m sort of ashamed of that’,” Deterding says. The argument is that liking movies is too vague or off-topic to be interesting or meaningful to the community of his friends. “Contrast that with a more focused community like,” he says, “which is basically a huge wiki and community site for board games.” Deterding argues that, since he and his friends in fact are board game geeks, becoming a fan of the game Hornet Leader 2 is something meaningful to the community around him. If the community gives him kudos for that, then this is something he cares about. Another facet of meaningful community Deterding admires about BoardGameGeek is its community-generated goals process. If the community generates a goal and sets the activities to achieve it, this automatically ensures that it is of interest to the community.

Wrapping gamification in a meaningful story. Many argue, Deterding concedes,  that video games don’t connect to anything relevant to our everyday lives. So how do they achieve meaning? The answer is that video games wrap their goals, levels and other game mechanics within a story, and the narrative of the story gives meaning to the experience. As an example, Deterding notes the site which tries to motivate users to crowdsource earmarks in legislation. “You’d have to be a true policy/transparency wonk to care about this,” he says. What if instead, Deterding wonders, this process were wrapped in a story headlined “Discover Corruption” and given a Watergate theme to motivate citizen journalists? “Suddenly this menial task would seem much more exciting and motivating,” he argues. For a more remedial example, Deterding cites the classic Atari video game Missile Command in which the simple mechanic of keeping red trajectories from reaching blue ones is wrapped in the story: “Defend cities from nuclear bombs.” Similarly without supporting story, visuals and artifacts, the hugely popular game Mafia Wars would be stripped to a dull “fill the progress bar to progress” mechanic.

Mastery. In what is arguably the most incisive point of his talk, Deterding contends that there is a fundamental misconception in gamification discourse about why games are engaging. Gamification marketers may say users are engaged by the rewards in games (points, levels, and badges are basically all rewards). Deterding argues that what really captivates users is mastery. This leads to fascinating and powerful parallels between increasing engagement and loyalty in gamification, learning and problem solving.

“There’s this pop-behaviorist idea of video games as a kind of Skinner box that doles out rewarding points like sugar pellets every time we hit the right lever,” Deterding says, “But if that were the case, it should be engaging to earn a trillion points every time you hit the button, which is not true. Deterding argues that game designer Raph Koster comes closer to the truth of why games are engaging when he writes that fun is just another word for learning. To be sure, this sounds counterintuitive since we associate learning with school and generally think of school as anything but fun. But at its root, Deterding states, the fun of learning is really the fun of mastering something. Figuring out a puzzle, recognizing a pattern, or having the dexterity to make the next step in a game that you couldn’t make before, Deterding says, are all elements of mastery that give us that good sense of achievement which is the core fun of video games. For Deterding, the apparent disconnect between the fun of mastering video games and the laboriousness of mastering school lies in the presence of “optimal conditions”. That’s what video games do for us, he argues. They provide optimal conditions for achieving mastery. And the way they do this, he says, is by providing interesting challenges.

Scaffolded Challenges.  Games make the conditions for achieving mastery optimal by setting goals for us and adding rules to make pursuing these goals more interesting. Deterding translates this into UX recommendations by encouraging user experience designers to always place clear, visually present goals in the interface. The UX should acknowledge that the user is returning and clearly set forth the next goal to achieve in the game. In addition, Deterding argues, UX designers should make sure the goals are well structured and well organized. Designers should break up each goal into smaller, achievable goals, presenting the first of these, then having the next queued up and ready to go. “This structured flow of goals pulls users through the game,” Deterding says. A good pair of examples he cites are Zynga’s FrontierVille and City Ville – “You can play without any missions, but when you enter, on the left side, there is a clearly marked list of new missions and new goals you can pursue.”

The next technique Deterding cites to create optimal conditions for achieving mastery is to ensure that there is not just a bland line of goals on the same level, but that the goals get increasingly more difficult. This is what game designers, and educators, refer to as “scaffolded challenges.” Deterding advocates Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi’s flow theory which states that we feel best not when we’re under-challenged and bored or over-challenged and frustrated and anxious but in the ideal middle spot between them where the challenges match our abilities and we get a feeling of achievement by mastering them. This is “flow” – the psychology of optimal experience. It’s often represented by a graph like the one above, with difficulty on the vertical axis and skill and time on the horizontal axis. Anxiety results when difficulty is high and skill and time are low. Boredom ensues when you have lots of skill and ample time but confront an easy challenge. Flow, or optimal experience, takes place in a diagonal zone, cutting a swath between these extremes rising upward and to the right.

Fluctuating The Difficulty Of Challenges. To further optimize conditions for achieving mastery and the fun of learning, Deterding says, games don’t pull a straight line through the flow zone. They usually have a flickery line up and down through it. Users face steep and challenging goals, then suddenly something of very low difficulty. The advantage of fluctuating, Deterding explains, is that on the one hand it provides the experience of failure which gives you something to learn from. The player, or learner, needs to try something different in order to succeed. At the same time, it makes success feel more rewarding than if the user succeeded right away. A second advantage of fluctuation is that when the level of difficulty in the flow zone suddenly dips low, you get the experience of aceing out, of being the super-king and finishing everything, Deterding adds. Then the difficulty rises again. You struggle a bit, and the fluctuations continue, staggering generally upwards in challenge and mastery.

Varying The Type Of Challenges. The next twist to optimize conditions for achieving mastery is that games don’t merely add more of the same kind of challenge as their levels increase in difficulty through the flow zone. “That would be boring, grinding, repetitive,” Deterding objects. Games pose you one kind of challenge and then another, he says, and then they combine them into a more complex challenge. Games vary the challenges as well as increasing them in difficulty. Translating this into UX recommendations, Deterding advises user experience designers to employ variety, depth, and complexity. “Start simple,” he says, “Then try to scaffold it slowly into more complex tasks. For example, take the goal from ‘add a comment’ or ‘like’ something to ‘become the moderator of a page’”.

Excessive Positive Feedback/Juicy Feedback. The final way Deterding explains that video games optimize conditions for achieving mastery is by providing us with excessive positive feedback when we master something. Over-stimulate your users and give them a smile, Deterding says. Think rainbows, Beethoven’s 9th, pinball-like tabulating points. “That’s what game designers call juicy feedback.” Deterding advises UX designers to always provide juicy feedback to optimize the conditions for achieving mastery.

Autonomy/Freedom. Deterding says research finds one of the core reasons why games are appealing is that they are voluntary – an activity we choose for ourselves. He believes this voluntary, autonomous aspect is key for successful applications of gamification to productivity contexts.  For him, the great example is Tom Sawyer, who convinced his friends to give up a playtime going swimming and pay him for the privilege of doing work – painting his Aunt Polly’s fence. Creating the impression that he was painting the fence voluntarily, Deterding says, made the experiential difference. Filling out spreadsheets may seem dreadful at work, Deterding points out, but if you do it in a multi-player game you’re engaged in the same activity and paying for the privilege because you voluntarily chose to play. The Scoreboard application for provides him with another example. Depending on whether users engage with it voluntarily or whether a supervisor attaches a reward to it, Deterding says, it can be empowering or very demotivating. Attaching extrinsic rewards to a challenge also has the problem of devaluing the activity. Deterding appears to have a distaste for Twitter sweepstakes in which users are asked to retweet or follow something in exchange for qualifying to win a giveaway. “This gives a social signal that the activity is not valuable –  it’s so bad, they had to pay to get followers,” he says.

At first it may look like trying to create autonomy and freedom in gamification conflicts with the central game mechanic of rewards. However Deterding cites ways to meld and optimize the two. First, designers can give the user many possible ways to achieve the goal, once the goal is agreed upon, taking a “shared goals, individual pursuits” model which increases the experience of autonomy. Zappos customer service is an example that Deterding cites — “We want a good customer experience. Make the customer happy. But how you do that is completely up to you.” A second technique is to provide feedback that is informational and helpful in solving the task, rather than feedback in the form of a pat on the back or a reward, Deterding says. gets kudos from Deterding for providing users with helpful feedback on how far they are from reaching a specific personal finance goal and next steps to take if they don’t make it. The feedback is informational, rather than controlling, which contributes to the sense of autonomy. A third method is to give users unexpected rewards, or “Easter eggs” as they’re known in video games. If you don’t expect a reward, and suddenly it appears, Deterding argues, then you don’t make a causal relationship in your head between your doing the activity and the reward. “Hence you don’t feel controlled by it,” he says. “You feel autonomous.”

Deterding’s Take-Aways. Summing up his Google Tech Talk, Deterding advises product managers to think through gamification as a process, not as features: “Provide a story with meaning that connects to your users’ everyday lives; provide a rule system they can master; provide a free space they can play in.” He stresses understanding the core parts of game design as set forth in books like The Game Design Workshop. Playing board games, and thinking about how they create engaging dynamics between users, is a good mental exercise that Deterding recommends. A UX designer by profession, Deterding reinforces knowing your end users and keeping it uppermost in mind that as UX designers “we are not our users.” Failing this can result in applying the wrong game mechanics to your target audience and a failed service. Protoyping, play-testing, and iterating your rule system and point system are critical, Deterding stresses, noting that the top-selling game Plants vs. Zombies was iterated upon for three years before launch. Finally, he says, bring in the data. Supplement the quantitative data with qualitative. For example, he notes, designers can measure how long it took to win a level and tune it to make it more difficult if it’s just three seconds. Discovering whether the point system is refined to curb exploitative behavior is another factor that can be quantitatively measured.

Seth Priebatsch

At age 22, Seth Priebatsch, Chief Ninja at SCVNGR, is not only running a Google-backed gamification startup with a $100M valuation. In recent talks at TED and SXSW, Priebatsch is laying out a big vision of what’s next for the internet. To the mind of this disruptive young entrepreneur, the next big thing will be an expanded application of game mechanics to solving real-world problems – including challenges in education, customer acquisition, customer loyalty, location based services, and maybe even (he jokes) global warming.

Priebatsch evangelizes a vision he calls “the game layer” of the internet – a capability that he believes it will take the next ten years to build and that he predicts will have 10 times more influence on our lives than the “social layer” which precedes it. Whereas the social layer traffics in connections, the game layer traffics in influence, Priebatsch says. “It seeks to influence where we go, what we do, how we do it, why we do it.” What excites him, and in turn makes him exciting to watch, is planning how the game layer can be built and what it can do now – “because it can do great things”.

Following are Priebatsch’s five well-thought-out examples of how game mechanics can solve – and in some cases currently are solving – big problems, as presented to his audience at this year’s SXSW:

Game Mechanics And Education. Priebatsch’s first focus is on school, whose many elements – including motivated players, challenges, rewards, rules, allies, enemies, appointment dynamics, countdowns, incentives and disincentives – he meticulously likens to a game. “You’ve got all these things that basically make school the best real-world implementation of a game that’s out there,” he says, “but unfortunately it’s a little broken.” In Priebatsch’s assessment of school as a game, but a poorly designed one, there are two central problems that he believes lend themselves to solution via refined game mechanics – engagement and cheating.

Students aren’t as engaged in school as they should be, Priebatsch believes, because of a broken grading system. To Priebatsch, grading is nothing but a “status” game mechanic, but one that is done wrong. “What the grading system has done is create what we call ‘the moral hazard of game play,’” he says, crediting the phrase to game designer Jesse Schell. In making this error, grades replace the real reward – in this case, learning for learning’s sake – with a series of ersatz rewards in the form of arbitrary letters that we get on individual actions. “When you replace the real reward with the fake reward, “ Priebatsch argues, “people start to view the actions they need to take to get the reward as chores, and they start becoming very unengaged.” More than this, he reasons, a grade is a game mechanic that you can lose in a game where we don’t want people to lose. Priebatsch challenges the grading game mechanic then redesigns it on the fly. “Why have a mechanic where you can progress negatively, where a huge mental focus is placed on not failing?” he asks. “Why not create a grade system that is based much more on progressions, where, instead of having a grade based on a weighted average on how you do on each individual challenge, quiz, test, start with zero experience points and as you do well on challenges, tests, and quizzes you increase your experience points and you move from a level B to a level A to a level A+ ?” In the redesigned grading game mechanic, Priebatsch says, “You can’t level down. You can’t fail. It’s all about focusing on the positive. It’s just how quickly you can progress to level B, or level A, or level White Knight Paladin Level 20.” Priebatsch maintains that educators would still wind up with a normal distribution of students at the end. But by decreasing the direct correlation of action to reward and having people focus on the end result, he says, it is possible to correct a grading system that naturally leads people to focus on the wrong things. The outcome, Priebatsch predicts, would be to increase engagement in school, to make people study harder, do better, and be more prepared for success in life.

Priebatsch shares a similar approach proved to reduce cheating in school. “What’s going on with cheating is we’re fighting it with a game mechanic called disincentives,” he says. “If you cheat, you get thrown out, you fail on that test. Something bad happens. But the problem with this is that the mechanic is totally misapplied.” Priebatsch contends that the current disincentive is not on cheating, but rather on getting caught. “When you’ve got these misapplied disincentives, people learn very quickly how to play the game as you’ve designed it,” he argues. “We just designed the game slightly wrong.” Priebatsch’s solution, once again, is to change the rules. Rather than having rules that call for an omnipotent overseer (a teacher, a TA, or an admin) enforcing the disincentive against cheating, Priebatsch suggests substituting a mechanic called the “social fabric of game play”, a term he credits to game designer Jane McGonigal.  At Princeton, Priebatsch reports, this game mechanic reduced cheating from over 400 incidences a year to 2. “They made it such that when you are taking a test, there is no teacher, no admin, no TA, no oversight of any kind,” Priebatsch says. The only two rules this game mechanic are: (i.) Students must write down an honor code stating they will not cheat and have not seen anyone else cheat, and (ii.) Complicity is as much a crime as cheating yourself. If you see someone else cheat, and you do not report it, you’re just as guilty. “This really subtle shift changes the game from me fighting against my players and against the admin who is this omnipotent enforcer who has the power to watch over us, to a game where it’s me and the other players enforcing on one another, trusting one another because we’re all in the same game, and it changes the enemy from being the admin to being the test,” Priebatsch explains. Always on the lookout for social problems solvable by game mechanics, Priebatsch imagines applying the social fabric of gameplay to other large-scale processes such as the tax code and tax law. “Imagine everyone enforcing that themselves – the social fabric of gameplay on a national level.”

Game Mechanics And Customer Acquisition. Priebatsch illustrates the power of game mechanics to make quantum improvements in customer acquisition by dissecting the company that has done the best job acquiring customers – Groupon. To Priebatsch, Groupon is simply the sum of three game mechanics (plus a huge email list). The mechanics are free lunch, communal gameplay and countdown.

Free Lunch. “Free lunch is one of the most subtle game mechanics in the deck,” Priebatsch explains. “Free lunch basically plays off of the consumer’s own skepticism to get them to engage in the game. We’ve been taught since we were two that a free lunch can’t exist. What we see here [Priebatsch shows a slide of Groupon daily deal] is too good to be true – 50% off on an awesome lunch place. So how can it actually be done?”  Groupon is very careful to explain that the free lunch has a catch, he says – “a certain number of people have to buy it in order to tip it. And so it is a free lunch, but the skepticism is removed because the free lunch is justified.” This appears to be standard challenge/reward scenario, Priebatsch admits, “except the brilliance of what Groupon has done is they can present the free lunch, they can play off the consumer skepticism by justifying it with this tipping rule, and yet be guaranteed that the consumer never has to take any action to do it. The consumer never has to do any work, because 95% of all Groupons tip before 8 am.” Even though Groupon daily deals contain a call to action to socially share the deal with friends, Priebatsch explains, this almost never requires the consumer to do work because the vast size of Groupon’s email list is almost always enough to tip the deal by itself.

Communal Gameplay. Groupon’s second game mechanic is communal gameplay. “It is based on the idea that you can give anyone a very complex problem, and if you make the rules clear and you make the goal clear, then decentralized networks of people can solve these problems very very quickly,” Priebatsch says. The Groupon communal gameplay example, he notes, is that as a community you need to hit 50 purchases for a great deal to be triggered. “The way you do that – the rules are very simple – is you share it with your friends,” he notes. “The goal is equally clear – you get the great deal at the end.” As he mentioned earlier, Priebatsch points out that Groupon nowadays uses the social sharing call to action more as a kick-starter, since most of the deals tip simply because they have such a huge email list.

Countdown. The final dynamic that makes up Groupon is also the simplest, Priebatsch says. It’s the countdown. “It’s a very simple dynamic,” he explains. “ Everyone understands it. But what it does is it creates this humongous exponential spike in activity as you get closer and closer to countdown zero.  There have been a lot of studies done where you take two equally sized groups of people and you present them with an opportunity, and you give one group 24 hours to decide and the other group 30 days to decide. And the 24 hour group consistently takes advantage of that opportunity more often because the spike in engagement created by the countdown mechanic is so huge.”

These three game mechanics, plus an email list, basically equals Groupon, Priebatsch concludes, and it gives you a lot of powerful customer acquisition.

Game Mechanics And Loyalty. Game dynamics such as the level-up – jumping from one level to the next, unlocking status and unlocking a higher reward – have already been used in very sophisticated loyalty programs. “But they use them in such an overburdened way that it’s almost impossible for people to interact,” Priebatsch argues. He’s attempting to remedy that with SCVNGR’s new product, LevelUp designed to compete with Groupon and LivingSocial. LevelUp offers a series of three deals to consumers, who unlock each one in succession as they try out a business, each time leveling up and increasing loyalty. The idea is to re-engineer the game mechanic of social location based services to prevent consumers from abandoning interacting with a local business after just one check-in. Priebatch hints that LevelUp also uses the concept of inclusive ownership, in which a small group of people get to share special status and benefits, rather than exclusive ownership, where the benefit and special status are conferred upon just one individual. “We think, and a bunch of people think, that the daily deals space and the location based space are going to converge very quickly.” A location-based daily deals service that lets a group of people share the benefits of a level-up game mechanic is definitely one to watch.

Game Mechanics And Location Based Services. The fourth problem to which Priebatsch applies game mechanics is narrower but one that directly concerns his own company – location based services. “We’re going to talk about moving them into mainstream,” he says, “But we’re going to handle it in a generic way – how do you take any service that is inherently niche and expand it into the mainstream?” Only a small percent of the addressable market uses social location based services today, Priebatsch notes, even though big money and big partners have pushed it hard, including collaborations like Facebook Places/Gap, Whrrl/UPS, Foursquare/Pepsi, Gowalla/Disney, SCVNGR/Coca Cola. Again, Priebatsch’s solution for driving mass adoption of social location based services is to change the rules of the game mechanics in two ways: (i.) Use quantitative easing to relax the rules until people engage, introducing ‘loosely coupled’ versus ‘tightly coupled’ correlation of people and places. Right now social LBS services are a game that’s too hard, Priebatsch argues. They require you to be at a physical location to engage in the game. For example, limits the experience since it’s a small moment when two people are in the exact physical place. “What if the location is a ‘loose’ place, such as a place that you will be at? You change the rules so people re-engage.” Look for more ways to engage with places than simply announcing your arrival. (ii.) Change the reward game mechanic. Like Sebastian Deterding, Priebatsch concedes that rewards can motivate, but he consistently warns about their negative side. When a social LBS service offers a reward in exchange for desired behaviors, users may be engaging because they want the reward but don’t value the community. Priebatsch is asking the right question when he wonders what happens when a service can’t offer a reward for every behavior. This game mechanic may not be sustainable. That’s a game mechanics problem Priebatsch admitted he and his team at SCVNGR haven’t cracked yet. Listening to him, though, you have to feel that it’s only a matter of time.

What do you think of these big ideas on gamification? Discover any others you’d like to add? Share your thoughts in comments.


Credit for Seth Priebatsch composite image to UK Guardian.

Feb 162011

A major sign of the explosive growth that lies ahead for gamification, or making a non-game application more engaging by adding game-like features, is the packaging of game mechanics as an off-the-shelf solution by several emerging gamification platform vendors.

Gamification technology has just been democratized.

As marketers and software developers rush to tap into the increased engagement, fun, and loyalty of gamification, M2 Research predicts that this emerging space will generate $1.6B in revenue by 2015.

Only a few months ago gamification was the province of a few mega-sensations like Foursquare and Zynga. Now it can be plugged into your website or app via licensing a third-party engine, widgets and APIs without writing a single line of code. Discover and visit some of the leading vendors in this emerging market in the running list below:

1.) Gamify

2.) Badgeville

3.) Bunchball

4.) Big Door Media

5.) CrowdTwist

6.) Cynergy

7.) SpectrumDNA

8.) Reputely

9.) iActionable

10.) Scvngr

11.) Manumatix

12.) Leapfrog Builders

Gamification platforms come complete with reward features for points, levels, badges, virtual goods, Facebook credits, and coupons.  There are installable widgets for notifications, progress, avatars, profiles, leaderboards, social sharing. There are published APIs for deep integration, back-end admin consoles for set up, and full reporting and metrics.

To be sure, custom gaming applications like ‘the Huntdeveloped for the 19,000-participant Cisco GSX global sales conference virtual event by Juxt Interactive, No Mimes Media and George P. Johnson are still needed to achieve specialized business objectives. Web and mobile app entrepreneurs and product visionaries that intend to differentiate based on unique gamification experiences will also write custom code. But for marketers and app developers looking for ways to gamify their own products and experiences to better engage with target audiences, the emerging gamification platform vendors are ready to step in.

Game on.

Have you integrated gamification into your website or app with success (or learnings)? Know of other emerging gamification platform vendors? Share them, and other comments, here. I’m interested in your perspective.

Jan 312011

If your business is looking to develop its first mobile app, deciding which mobile application development framework to build it in, and what skill set you’ll need from developers, can be tricky with so many types of development frameworks emerging. Here’s a breakdown of some basic types of frameworks, with a few leading examples of each, and a look at some of their strengths and drawbacks to help you make the right choice for your business’s app:

Native platform mobile app development frameworks. The iOS (Apple) platform and Android (Google) platform are the market leaders. Developers write code using the native tools of the platform. iOS developers use the iOS SDK, Xcode IDE, Objective-C, Core Animation, Core Graphics, Accelerometer and Cocoa Touch UI framework. Android developers use the Android SDK, Eclipse IDE with ADT plugin. Android apps are written in Java, or via plug-ins, can be written in a variety of languages including C,C++, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, Ruby On Rails, Scala and Scheme.

HTML5 and JQuery mobile application frameworks for multi-touch web apps that run in the mobile device browser. SproutCore, JQuery Mobile, and Sencha Touch are three of the leading tools. These frameworks create HTML5 browser-based (not-native) mobile apps that cleverly emulate the multi-touch UX of native apps on Apple and Android touchscreen devices. Since they’re HTML5 and browser-based, these mobile apps will run in the browser of Apple, Android, even Blackberry Torch devices. An HTML5 app is one of a couple of options you have to write once and run everywhere.

Cross-Platform native mobile app dev frameworks. PhoneGap and Appcelerator Titanium are two leaders. Also referred to as “wrappers” for creating hybrid web-apps, these open source frameworks essentially wrap a web application inside a native application that can be distributed via the native app stores for iPhone, iPad and Android. The hybrid web-mobile app approach is another alternative to let you target multiple platforms with a single codebase. A wrapper also makes it possible to build mobile apps for app store distribution using developers who haven’t mastered native platform languages and tools like Objective-C and Cocoa Touch. Developers use their existing web skills with JavaScript, HTML and CSS to code the application, and the framework compiles most of the code into a native iPhone, iPad or Android app.

Rapid mobile app development frameworks. AppMakr and Mobile Roadie are leading tools. AppMakr is a browser-based mobile app dev framework that makes it super-fast to create an iPhone app from existing content such as an organization’s YouTube channel, blog posts, and other social network feeds. Such apps can be created and submitted to the Apple App Store or Android Market in a matter of hours.

The Big Questions

Organizations are trying to figure out whether apps developed in write-once-run-everywhere frameworks can really hold their own next to native apps. When planning a mobile app strategy, having single codebase that reaches users on any platform is the end game – user base, cost savings, time-to-market, simplicity, and maintenance all would be optimized. No organization gets excited by the prospect of developing an app for iOS, building it again for Android, and then paying once more to code a web app. But for some app requirements doing all three can turn out to be the only viable route to market, for now. One thing is clear. When it’s launched, the app has to perform well enough to win a critical mass of user adoption.

In cases when it’s deemed necessary to write the app three times for Apple, Android and Web, organizations next turn to the question of which platform to target first, and where the web app should rank on the roadmap. No one wants to get the sequence wrong.

Strengths And Drawbacks

A friend involved in developing the beautiful PBS iPad app met me for lunch and we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the various mobile app dev frameworks. Our talk echoed the conclusions of dozens of developers answering questions about mobile app dev frameworks on public forums like Quora.

The HTML5 and JQuery mobile app dev frameworks are on the right track, and they’re okay for building a simple browser-based multi-touch mobile app with a simple UI that doesn’t need to tap into the platform’s native features. However, for apps with more sophisticated requirements, or the need to deliver a flawless user experience to acquire users, many developers find that these platforms aren’t mature enough yet. To illustrate, my friend showed me a demo of a browser-based app developed in SproutCore for a television network rival of PBS. The emulation of native touch apps was pretty cool. Its buttons were touch activated; its menus loaded similarly to menus developed in Xcode and Cocoa Touch; it imitated iOS’s gestural page navigation; and it copied the bounce of a native iOS app when you scroll up at the top of a page.

Using two iPads, we literally set the SproutCore app on the table side-by-side with the PBS native iPad app to compare. Several UX differences became noticeable. Gestural transitions, smooth in the iOS app, were jumpy and exhibited a weird flutter in the browser app. Buttons, which changed state when touched in the iOS app, remained unchanged with no visual cue when tapped in the browser app. Menus, which loaded instantaneously in the iOS app, exhibited a performance delay before opening in the browser app. The bounce at the top of the page wasn’t quite the same. It can be frustrating, my friend said, for a UX perfectionist when the write-once-run-anywhere frameworks don’t give you access to the platform’s native UX capabilities. For an organization like PBS with a brand reputation for high-quality video content, launching with a flawless and beautiful UX was identifed as critical to maximize user acquisition. Despite the cost, hiring native iOS developers was the right strategy for getting the app onto the iPad. Now that it is released, the app has received stellar user ratings and reviews.

As for the wrappers (the cross-platform native mobile app dev frameworks like PhoneGap and Appcelerator Titanium), the requirements of the PBS iPad app ruled them out as well. The app needed custom APIs (to access PBS’s streaming media content via the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud). The team wanted to utilize UIWebView to embed HTML in specific areas of the iOS native app to create server side views. Requirements like these aren’t easily accommodated via a wrapper, my friend said. Even more an issue, he observed, is the fact that you’re in a box with these frameworks, and you’re stuck with their developer tools. While another mobile developer colleague of mine challenged this conclusion, noting that you can insert custom Objective-C into Appcelerator to create functionality beyond the standard Titanium developer tools and that Titanium offers solid capabilities to access the hardware on the native device, my friend’s team nonetheless found it more flexible developing with Xcode.

Obviously, rapid mobile application development frameworks like AppMakr didn’t make the cut for my friend’s project. Their focus on compiling mobile apps for App Store distribution quickly from existing YouTube channels, blog posts, and social media feeds disqualified them as tools for a more ambitious app. Still, you have to credit AppMakr. For something so simple, it has attracted customers including, Newsweek, and social media guru Seth Godin. All launched AppMakr apps and got their social content “mobilized” and packaged for the App Store in a matter of hours.

Not every mobile app has the sophisticated requirements of the PBS iPad app. But looking at the different mobile app dev frameworks through the lens of its tough requirements is instructive in sorting out what kinds of apps they’re suited for.

Native Platforms And Web – Getting The Order Right In The Roadmap

Platform preference of your target users, budget, timeframe, business objectives, the coding skills of your existing developers, and special requirements for UX and API integration – all may drive the sequence of Apple, Android, and web development. But for organizations seeking mass adoption of their mobile app, the critical factors are: (i.) maximizing total addressable audience, and (ii.) launching with a UX that will engage users. The roadmap decision often results from an optimization exercise performed on these two factors.

HTML5 web apps represent the maximum total addressable audience. Even though discovery of web apps can be an issue because they lack the powerful distribution channels of the native app stores, in theory HTML5 web apps can be used by anyone with a mobile brower based on Webkit or Chrome. That means Apple, Android, even Blackberry Torch. What’s not maximized on web apps is UX. If an organization reasons that initial user satisfaction has to be optimized in order to drive user adoption, establish brand quality, or differentiate from competitors, it may choose to do its initial launch with a native platform app despite the smaller addressable audience compared to a web app. The platform they choose to make a big splash with UX more than likely will be Apple iOS. Compared to iOS native apps, my friend said, Android apps feel like Microsoft. Developer Ish Harshawat echoed this in a Quora discussion, calling out Google for doing a poor job of communicating to developers the best practices for user experience and design. The result is a lot of the apps that started with Android as the look and feel seem kind of haphazard in usability, he said. Android 3.0, codenamed Honeycomb, introduces a completely new user interface suitable for tablet devices, but it remains to be seen how much this shifts the UX equation.

Android’s burgeoning growth, which recently surpassed that of Apple, has made big headlines in recent months, but organizations need to distinguish between growth numbers versus the current installed base of the two platforms. Nielsen figures show in the past six months Android became the top choice of consumers buying smartphones. 40.8% of smartphone buyers chose Android devices, versus 26.9% who opted for an iOS smartphone or 19.2% who preferred a Blackberry. NPD Group research put Android at a sizzling 44% of U.S. smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2010. To date, 85 competitors have lined up against iPad, and most of them will run Android. However, in installed base the iPhone still leads with 28.6% of the market compared to Android’s 25.8%..

By the time my friend’s team started with PBS, the PBS organization already had launched an iPhone app, which all agreed was the right first move. The question was what the mobile roadmap should look like going forward. Following their own optimization exercise on UX and addressable audience, the team decided to do a native iOS app for iPad first, an HTML5 web app next, and native Android smartphone and tablet apps after that.

It was the right choice for their organization. What mobile strategy works best for you?

Jan 312011

Getting your target audience to repeatedly visit and engage in a niche online community running on Jive Software, Cisco Quad, Chatter, Pathable, Drupal, Liferay, or other social software platform is challenging — even with great content and a terrific community manager. With some exceptions, unique visitors, repeat visits per user, and behavioral engagement metrics have a tendency to plateau or at best trend slightly upward within a band.

Now consider something disruptive — a complementary online experience that can penetrate and engage the same target audience as your social software platform but that periodically produces comparatively huge spikes of online audience for 1-2 days. I’m talking about virtual event platforms. These software platforms let organizations create large online gatherings – kind of like a Webex meeting on steroids – for internal meetings, conferences, exclusive briefings, product launches, lead generation, online learning/training, job fairs, and more. What if you could periodically drive spikes of online audience like this into your niche online community? You might wind up with site analytic reports that look kind of like the chart below, and that ramp audience penetration and engagement for your community much faster.

Additive, Synergistic Technologies

No matter which piece of the combined social-virtual solution you start from, integrating the technologies yields business benefits and improvements in audience penetration and engagement that are greater than the sum of the parts. Online communities running on social software are vivified by the energy and sense of “happening” of a virtual event. Streaming video presentations that contain unique, well-curated content, wrapped in persisting social activity streams may be the magic formula for increasing audience penetration and engagement, collaboration, learning, and loyalty to the community.

The synergy is just as strong when flipped to start from the virtual event side. Generating social activity streams that are based around the participants, presentations, documents, chats and virtual spaces of a virtual event environment would not only increase participant engagement during the live days of the virtual event, but provide a more viable platform for building 365-day virtual business communities. In general, the confluence of the technologies makes sense because communities naturally coalesce into events, and events naturally disperse into communities. Events are simply the Super Bowl culminations of communities where audience spikes.

Today’s Loosely-Coupled Social-Virtual Integration – A Starting Place

First steps toward social-virtual integration already have been taken by both social software and virtual event vendors.

On the virtual side, features like real-time chat, messaging, buddy lists, vCard exchange, attendee roster, and people search arguably represent social functionality. But they lack the activity-stream-based view of Enterprise 2.0 social software — follower/following capability and real-time streams of activity by people and entities you are following.

Virtual event platforms rode the wave of social API integration, and many now incorporate Twitter hashtag widgets, the Facebook Livestream social plugin, and elements of the LinkedIn Platform API into the virtual environment. Industry leader INXPO was among the first to market with an integrated “social suite” offering these features thanks to the insight of product marketing director Dennis Shaio. Intefy and Ustream both provide similar, less feature-rich, ways to mashup live streaming presentations and Twitter hashtags. A great example of one such Intefy-powered hybrid live-virtual event was Event Camp Twin Cities. Cisco Systems’ CiscoLive is a 365-day hybrid-virtual-social community for Cisco engineers that runs on the INXPO platform. Although it lacks the Enterprise 2.0 social software UX of, say, Cisco Quad or Jive, it pulls its audience back in via regularly scheduled pulse virtual events containing freshly curated content. Q&A sessions integrated within the webcast presentations, real-time chats and Twitter hashtags provide the collaborative interaction between attendees and subject matter experts and between attendees and other attendees.

One startup deserves credit on the virtual event side for taking the convergence of virtual and social software to the next level — Bellevue, WA-based startup Social27. With Social27 it’s possible to follow attendees in the virtual environment and view social activity streams on their updates. Social27 is a startup social CRM agency that has developed and shipped a cloud-based SaaS virtual event product. The company’s founder and CEO, Ike Singh Kehal, positions Social27 in the “enterprise social computing” space. The company offers both a virtual event product and an Enterprise 2.0 collaboration platform, and appears to have fused elements of the two. It looks like a harbinger of things to come.

The Social Software Side

On the social software side, first steps toward social-virtual integration have been taken by Cisco Quad, which integrates Webex online conferencing into the Enterprise 2.0 environment, and by the Brainshark app in the Jive Apps Market, which lets participants create, manage, deliver and track on-demand multimedia presentations from within the Jive social platform. Such online conferencing tools lack the feature functionality of a full virtual event platform, but they’re a step toward wrapping online meetings and gatherings in social software UX and activity streams., a niche online community running on the Pathable social platform, regularly launches live streaming webcasts with thought leaders via an embedded UStream player on its site. Participants can start a native discussion thread about the webcast by simply clicking the “start a conversation” button at the top of the page, and that threaded discussion will persist on the native Pathable platform. Alternately, participants can Tweet about the webcast using the webcast’s Twitter hashtag.

BrazenCareerist, a career social networking site for people in their 20s, has also injected a form of virtual event into its activity-feed-based social platform. To be sure, BrazenCareerist’s Network Roulette events which have been described as “an online speed-networking service that lets young professionals build their network” are a unique departure from the experience of the commercial virtual event platforms. But BrazenCareerist CEO Edward Barrientos credits these virtual events with driving new waves of audience penetration and engagement into the BrazenCareerist online community.

Where It Needs To Go

What’s the end game for engaging an online audience with a combined virtual-social experience?

The roadmap probably lies in tighter integration between the unique content of virtual events and the social activity streams of persisting online communities. To give users the maximum opportunity for engagement, they should be able to follow, share, comment on and rank any entity in the virtual environment – including other participants, webcasts, documents, chats, blogs, and user-generated content uploads like YouTube videos. Each participant, content entity and group in the virtual environment should generate its own feed which can be subscribed to by any member. Feed posts should link directly to the virtual event content asset or profile of the user that is mentioned. These features exist today in social software platforms like Chatter. Extending such features to virtual event content would drive engagement during the live event days, catalyze a high volume of crowdsourced social discovery of that content, drive a wave of viral sharing, and launch true social-virtual platforms into the marketplace as a competitively differentiated 365-day collaboration solution. It would be particularly effective for driving audience penetration, loyalty and engagement in niche communities with relatively small numbers of unique visitors per day/week/month.


Needless to say, any evolutions of a virtual-social combined solution need to go mobile. Social software platforms like Jive and Chatter, as well as virtual event platforms like Social27, already have mobile versions of their apps. Online conferencing apps from Cisco Webex and other vendors also have mobile app versions. Putting emerging virtual-social communities on smartphones and tablets is another essential in expanding their audience reach, engagement, and frequency of touch.

What You Can’t Measure You Can’t Improve

Leading commercial virtual event platforms have strong integrated metrics. Social software platforms are beefing up their reporting with social media monitoring tools, as Jive did when it acquired Filtrbox. A social-virtual combined solution needs to track and report on behaviors on a per-user basis across both the virtual event and social software user experiences. The aggregate metrics would give a more complete view of each participant and be more actionable than either social metrics or virtual metrics on their own.

Have you used or considered using platforms that combine virtual event and social software? What has been your experience? How do you see the fusion of the technologies evolving?