When we talk about the future of the internet we often focus on social networks, and how entities like Facebook generate content simply by allowing user interactivity. As many victims of the web 2.0 explosion have learned, however, simply creating the opportunity for user participation very rarely actually leads to user participation.
This struck me a few weeks ago after some of the library’s teens recommended that I sign up for a website known as http://giantbomb.com. On the surface Giant Bomb is a fairly straightforward video game website, an outlet for news and reviews that’s been hybridized with a wiki structure. As with any wiki, most of the pages are available for users to contribute to and edit, and each page links to relevant discussion boards.
In other words, the site does a commendable job of allowing for user participation. But so does every other website. What sets Giant Bomb apart is its system for encouraging users to participate.
When you first create an account you are told that you are “level 1,” like a brand-new character in a role-playing video game. You are then given a slate of “Quests,” each of which is a different way of participating in the website. One quest asks you to link your Giant Bomb account to your Facebook page, another asks you to make a post on their forum.
Each time you complete a quest, you are given experience points, and your “character” comes a step closer to leveling up. There are hundreds of Quests available, and by the time you’ve completed even a small fraction of them and leveled your character up a bit, you have become (whether intentionally or not) an active participant in the website’s social structure.
For a bit of clarification, here’s the profile page of one of the site’s most active members: http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/starfoxa/quests/. (You can see the "quests" listed here, although their descriptions might not work with the antiquated web browsers we use on our staff computers).
What’s particularly brilliant about this system is that it’s strictly Pavlovian. There are no actual rewards given to users, but every user feels rewarded for participating. It is a formula that game designers have used for years, and it’s very interesting to see it applied outside of games.
So what could we do with something like this? Well, it’s a bold and distant ambition, but I could see something like this being the structure of a Summer Reading Program. Or we could use such a system to encourage patrons to contribute reviews to the ALD website (“You reviewed three books! You’re a level 4 Library Patron!”). What are your thoughts?