Category Archives: Social Networking

Reward Systems that Drive Engagement

Over the summer I’ve been ‘running’ UNversity – an online choose-your-own-project summer un-school for UWS game technology and game development students. A key feature of this was that it had to require minimal investment of time from myself (other stuff to do!), but I wanted to try to engage students, and encourage regular participation. Using a custom Moodle site, with some minor hacks, we have a points system and a leader board. We also have a basic badge system  – though I haven’t been able to spend the time to award badges, and they aren’t automatically awarded – so students have to self track their badges until UNversity wraps up and I’ll give out certificates and prizes.

The system has kind of worked – it has engaged some folk, and once folk have got into it, they have indeed kept up regular participation. But a number of students started, and quickly stopped – while others never really got started.

I’ve just watched a video of a presentation on by Amy Jo Kim from GDC 2010 that might have helped me better design my points and badge system – MetaGame Design: Reward Systems that Drive Engagement. This has given me food for thought, and I can see a couple of ways I went wrong – particularly on the need to provide more ‘early’ rewards for people getting started, and making those more visible. (A way to automatically tweet or send a Facebook message  from Moodle would be nice to make this easier!)

Overall, I think I’d have been limited by what I had time to implement though, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much about it… but perhaps there is a good student project in this – building the system I need to do this better next year.

Looking ahead to 2010 and 2020

I’m a bit late with my ‘predictions for the new year/decade’ post… but on Tuesday night I took part in a Virtual Worlds in Education Roundtable panel discussion (a ‘first of the month’ panel is a regular departure from the normal roundtable format, before you ask!) on predicting the possible and preferable future of virtual worlds in education. As the meeting took place shortly after Second Life’s Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon posted his own predictions for the coming year and decade, his comments naturally became a point of reference for much of the discussion.

VWER 1/5/10Image: VWER Panel, taken by Olivia Hotshot

The panel featured Chris Collins/Fleep Tuque, Anthony Fontana, AJ Kelton/AJ Brooks (Chair), myself, Ken Hudson/Kenny Hubble and Jon Richter. Sarah Robbins was sadly unable to make it :-(

We all seemed to have high hopes for the potential of Augmented Reality and mobile technology to enhance and extend the capabilities of virtual worlds – though I felt there to be a lot of uncertainty about how exactly the very different worlds of mobile AR and desk-bound virtual worlds will best be meaningfully and usefully merged. Charles Stross’ “Halting State” presents one picture, but still a little way to go to get there.

From M Linden’s blog post a few things stood out:

  • Chris and myself were both excited by the prospects of an improved API for communications between SL and the web. Currently a large degree of hackery is required to connect web 2.0 applications to SL – the app might provide a simple API, but to connect that to SL almost always requires creating an intermediary service running on a server to act as a go-between.
  • M’s predictions for 2020 were a mixed bag. Some outlined systems that are perfectly feasible already, or have already been demonstrated (The VUE group at Edinburgh have demonstrated video/virtual conferencing already, along the lines M suggests might happen in 2020: ‘Walls in your office become portals to the metaverse’)
  • “Second Life is galactic.” Some discussion here, that is Linden Lab want this outcome then they will have to work hard to ensure that SL makes itself an essential hub world for the growing number of other virtual worlds out there. Second Life is currently a de-facto standard – with the largely compatible OpenSim being one of the main competitors. Can Linden Lab pull off this feat?
  • “Second Life becomes a standard in business, education and government.” Well, it already is largely a standard for virtual worlds – simply because it is the dominant virtual world. Again, the issue for 2020 is whether SL will stay that way…
  • “SLHD blurs the distinction between real and virtual.” This is possibly the only area where M actually makes some far-sighted predictions. And what he is looking to is virtual world technology that provides the physical sensations of the places, objects and avatars one interacts with. This IMHO is something that will remain in the research lab, demonstration systems and theme park – I don’t see this as being a regularly used technology to access virtual worlds by 2020. If nothing else, it goes against current trends towards more mobile uses of technology, and increasing access via mobile and low powered devices.
  • M also suggests that improvements to content management and protection are in the pipeline – this comes a little late for many inworld vendors whose hard work has been cracked and made freely available due to flaws in SL’s security and copy protection mechanisms. (I am talking here about scripted objects, where the scripts themselves should be secure – an inherent feature of digital technology such as SL is that it simply is not possible to prevent theft of textures and 3D data for models – as this data is required by the client to render content. Scripts are supposed to be secure – but have not been.)

In discussion I made one prediction for next year that I’d like to withdraw – I said that at the first VWER meeting of 2011 we’d almost certainly meet in SL, not some other virtual world. It’s still most likely place to hold the meeting – but an OpenSim grid now how to be a very strong second place contender.

It was a long and free flowing chat – apologies if I’ve missed out your personal highlights!

Answering demand for instruction and guidance… in real-time

A mind-blowing article in November issue of Wired (17.11 – not yet on the web) on page 158 – and it isn’t even on the cover. Demand Media, which runs sites such as eHow and has published tens of thousands of instructional videos on YouTube produce over 4,000 articles and videos EACH DAY.

Demand use a few computer programs to mine current search engine terms, the ad market and competitor articles to determine daily what topics and articles to produce. A computer algorithm generates suggested article titles based on this information, these are then proofed and edited by humans proofers before the titles are added to an online repository of articles needed. Freelance writers and video producers trawl this site, write up their articles or shoot their videos for low, low fees (a typical video producer might need to make 10 videos a day to earn a wage).

This is a highly industrialized method of production, production to meet demand in real-time. And all of this is funded through advertising revenues…

Are there ways that academia could better use some of these notions? I would hate to see such an industrialised mode of content production, but the contrast with institutions, consortiums and even nations that have in the past spent millions of pounds on distance learning initiatives that have failed to return even one tenth of the investment could not be starker.

Are social networks harmful?

Are social networking sites harmful? I wouldn’t have thought so particularly, but this is the topic of the week it seems. Dr Aric Sigman has written a paper in The Biologist (membership of the Institute of Biology to even see the contents list, let alone abstract, so no link) saying that “websites such as Facebook set out to enrich social lives, but end up keeping people apart.” – as reported by the BBC, here.

“In less than two decades, the number of people saying there is no-one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled.”

Dr Sigman says he is “worried about where this is all leading”.

He added: “It’s not that I’m old fashioned in terms of new technology, but the purpose of any new technology should be to provide a tool that enhances our lives.”

And earlier in the month there was a debate in the UK House of Lords (part of our convoluted system of national government – think US Congress without elections and less power…) on social networking. This was reported on the Grauniad’s web site today, here.

In this latter article, I note the degree of similarity between some of Lady Greenfield’s comments on the changes to childrens’ minds brought about by digital technologies – and the changes in childrens’ minds described by e.g. Marc Prensky. Very different interpretation of whether these changes are good or not, however. Personally, I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle… TANSTAAFL. I’ll close with a quote from the Grauniad report,but note that the complete text of the debate is available online for any insomniacs out there – occaisional remarks in the debate show that some of the Lords are not completely out of touch with technology. (Baroness Sharp: “Lastly, children must be empowered to manage risk. As in the off-line world, one cannot eliminate risk completely; therefore one must build up resilience in children and educate them about the risks and how to minimise them.”).

Back to Lady Greenfield and the Grauniad:

She also warned against “a much more marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences. After all, whenever you play a computer game, you can always just play it again; everything you do is reversible. The emphasis is on the thrill of the moment, the buzz of rescuing the princess in the game. No care is given for the princess herself, for the content or for any long-term significance, because there is none. This type of activity, a disregard for consequence, can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling or compulsive eating.

“The sheer compulsion of reliable and almost immediate reward is being linked to similar chemical systems in the brain that may also play a part in drug addiction. So we should not underestimate the ‘pleasure’ of interacting with a screen when we puzzle over why it seems so appealing to young people.”


Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning

Teaching and Learning Research Programme – Technology Enhanced Learning (TLRP-TEL) has released a new commentary on Education 2.0 – Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning.

Note is made that much of the previous commentary on Web 2.0′s impact on education is highly speculative. To redress this, the Education 2.0 commentary

… sets out to challenge the confident portrayal of web 2.0 by many educationalists in terms of an imminent transformation of learning and teaching. Careful thought has therefore been given to how technologists, educators and learners can best shape the fast-changing internet in the near future. It aims to explore how education can change the web, as well as how the web can change education.

Within the commentary (which gives an overview of Web 2.o, and looks at learning and social networking) Diane Carr of the London Knowledge Lab does an excellent job of summarising activity ongoing in virtual worlds in just four pages and points to areas where further research is required.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that a communication I’d sent Diane too late for a previous report had made it in to this report – and a mention of SLOODLE.

Bad people are not allowed to read this

Are you a bad person? Well, then you are not allowed to read the following.

There, now that the bad people have gone, I can continue… Andy Phippen and colleagues at Plymouth have been studying eSafety, and have noted that children continue to use social networking sites with little regard or awareness of guidelines or apparent common sense.

The opening of this post is inspired directly by a quote they found on a teen’s social networking profile.

First an important message: please no pervs, murderurs, rapists, racists and just plain wierdos off limits,no comments no lukin on my profile.fullstop….f off!

As a protection mechanism, perhaps a touch less effective than taking care over privacy settings and careful selection of what information to post.