SPHERE OF INFLUENCE, INC. – software studios and services
In my previous post, I said I didn't expect our next enterprise application to include high scores. But if our next application is a corporate community or knowledge base, that may not be true. I say this because of my experience with Stack Overflow, a new Q & A site for programmers from Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky.
The Stack Overflow "high score" is reputation. The score grows through a combination of your own actions as a user, and the votes of your peers. If other users of the site find your questions interesting, they can vote them up. The same is true of your answers to questions. Answers acknowledged by the initial questioner as the most correct get higher scores. Bad questions and answers can be voted down. Some actions (like voting down a question or answer) are unavailable to you as a user until you've achieved a certain score. This system does a great job of incentivizing desired behavior by playing to our sense of competition. Even though I participated in the private beta, my score is only 260--and I'd like it to be higher.
In addition to the scoring system, Stack Overflow has badges. They serve a similar purpose to mission checklists by laying out a specific goal and the tasks to complete to achieve it. Some of the badges depend solely on your actions (e.g. the critic badge), while others depend on the opinion of your peers (like the great answer badge). In one of the podcasts about Stack Overflow, Atwood says the idea of badges came from the XBox 360, so there's an explicit objective of making this serious site more "game-like".
The result of this scoring system is a growing number of highly-engaged users. Questions asked on the site receive their first answers in a matter of seconds. The answers tend to be high-quality as well.
Having described the use of reputation, peer ranking, and community elements in Stack Overflow, two questions come to mind:
- Could any enterprise applications leverage any of this to make systems more likeable?
- If so, what types of enterprise applications might benefit the most?
I believe the answer to the first question is yes, and that enterprise applications whose primary purpose is knowledge-sharing are the most likely to benefit from leveraging these ideas.
In the context of the enterprise, the corporate portal is superficially similar to Stack Overflow (at least when it comes to the knowledge base functionality). In addition to web pages and links, portals provide a repository for information stored in files (the Word, Excel, and Powerpoint slide decks typical of corporations). The portal will also add metadata to each document it stores (who uploaded it, when it was uploaded, when it was changed, etc).
In general, searches of such repositories bring back the documents with the most matches against your search terms. They'll use the text of the document itself, and ideally any metadata the document contains. What is likely to be lacking from metadata added by the portal (at least by default) is any measure of the quality of a document. This quality measure is one area where some of the features of Stack Overflow could add value.
A voting mechanism would enable everyone who reads a particular document to rate it as helpful (or not). Combined with the information on who authored and/or uploaded it, the aggregate of these up-or-down votes could constitute a reputation score. Searches would weigh this information along with search keywords in ranking results, moving the most useful information up and the least useful information down.
In a call center/customer service application, with personnel depending on a knowledge base to support customers by phone, the voting mechanism described above could be applied to identify documents most likely to solve a common problem. If survey data on customer satisfation were consolidated into a score, it could be used to measure the effectiveness of call personnel, and assign calls accordingly. Even more specifically than a general effectiveness score, if the voting mechanism identified call center personnel as specialists in a particular problem or product, calls specific to their specialty could be routed directly to them.
In my next post, I'll discuss how users typically interact with enterprise applications, and what they might learn from the interaction mechanisms for games.