VMware launched a new site recently called Cloud Credibility. The idea is that you log in and start earning points that you can cash in on rewards for things such as pens, books, and even a chance to win a trip to VMWorld. Some of the tasks are simple, like following VMware personalities on Twitter. Others include leading VMUG sessions or hosting a podcast. There’s been a lot of backlash in recent days about the verification of these tasks or how downright silly some of them are. One post from Michael Ducy (@mfdii) went so far as to compare it to Klout.
This isn’t the first site to do something like this. While Klout may be the most well known, you have to include sites like FourSquare as well. Tech sites are not immune from this. Cisco’s support forums have a point-earning component that plays into earning VIP status and they have announced social rewards as well. Sites like Codecademy award badges for completing certain modules as you learn a programming language. Even education is starting to get on the bandwagon, as this review from MIT discusses.
The term for this type of thing is gamification. It specifically refers to the addition of game playing elements in a non-game setting. Most often, this is expressed via points or achievement badges of some kind. That’s how Cloud Cred works. You do a task and you earn 10 points. You do a bigger task and earn 100 points. When you get to 500 or 1000, you can cash in those points for a meaningless prize or keep accruing them in hopes of winning something big. While the currency is all virtual, the effect is quite real.
The only purpose that gamification serves to me is to hook people into staying on the site and pushing toward a lofty goal. When you see whitepaper, you may not be inclined to read it unless it’s something interesting to you. If you see the same whitepaper with a quiz at the end that earns you points toward a USB drive you might be more compelled to read it more closely, if only to learn enough to pass the quiz. Now, if you make the USB drive cost twice the number of points that the quiz offers, you can make the reader find other things on the site to do to earn those points. You keep them on your site digging through things if only to keep their point-earning streak going. Then, you make the plateaus for prizes rewarding in their own right but also give the earners a look at a bigger prize. Cash in the points you’ve earned on a notebook or a USB drive, but if you earn 10,000 more you can enter in a drawing to win a laptop!
Cloud Cred seems to serve dual purposes right now. The first is to gain more social discussion of VMware and the technologies around their announced cloud computing initiatives. The more people talking about what’s going on with VMware and cloud the better. The second purpose looks to be peer review of whitepapers. By having people reading over these and taking quizzes or pointing out errata, you raise the collective intelligence of your solutions and technical offerings. Plus, rather than having to beat people over the head to get them to review the research, you just offer them some meaningless points that they will probably never cash in on tchotchkes that cost the marketing department about $.38 each.
I dislike the trend of gamification in technology and education. Remember, this is coming from a gamer. When I sit down after a day of working, I fire up my favorite game and play to gain levels and fake money and whatever else the developers have decided I should earn. When I’m stitting at a desk from eight to five, I don’t want to be subjected to the same kind of rewards. These things are designed to suck you in and keep you interacting long past the date you would have otherwise. I wasted half an hour earning Cloud Cred just while writing this article. Every time I would go back to check something, I found myself earning a few more points to try and hit the next tier. If we’re going to reduce all of our support and technical offerings to the electronic equivalent of rats in a maze hitting the green button for another food pellet then maybe it’s time for us to rethink our strategies. After all, the reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more. It shouldn’t be a pen and a flashy star next to your forum name.