The Gamification Effect

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Can our web browsing and web-based tools be a game?

Yes.

In fact, more and more websites and applications are intentionally built like a game. These sites and tools are designed to foster engagement; not unlike a puzzle, they push you towards a ‘next piece’ or a ‘next step’. Any task, however mindless it may be, can be turned into a game. At it’s broadest definition, a game only requires a set goal (and achieving that goal should, ideally, involve an engaging experience) That the ‘gamification’ of our web-based activity is purposely built to be easy and intuitive is beside the point: we’re successfully sucked into the game.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled: Free Sandwiches. In this post I considered the many amazing innovations in web-based marketing. Most of these innovations were examples of ‘gamification’ in practice. Much like frequent flyer points accrued with an airline, a digital means of tracking dollars spent at a specific store (as these dollars work towards some form of reward, such as a free sandwich) is a perfect example of the gamification of web-based activity.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the gamification of our web activity isn’t an inherently unhealthy development. As web designers adopt the motivational and engagement-boosting tools discovered and exploited by game designers, worthwhile educational opportunities are opened up. Many of these opportunities can deliver enriching experiences. Day to day business activities can now become smoother, mutually-beneficial, and altogether more engaging processes. And one couldn’t even begin to list the number of ways gamification has already assisted educators.

In the field of education, gamified web-based tools often utilize the same teaching methods already found in textbooks. But these same tools can now reach new levels of engagement, not to mention unlimited scalability.

One example of gamification tools being put to great use is Treehouse; this organization uses rewards and goal tracking to teach web development techniques. There is no better means to learn how to build web-tools than a gamefied, reward-based training tool. Of course, this is a very specific example. Perhaps a better example comes in the form of web-based health tracking applications like MapMyRun. Who today doesn’t use similar applications when working towards goals? And these are just random, hand-picked examples. The point is that gamification techniques can clearly help us reach even our loftiest goals.

Indeed, there is no shortage of data to suggest that gamification techniques can inspire engagement. This infographic (from GIGYA) provides some enlightening information; this data illustrates why web developers continue to focus on gamification:

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But what about the drawbacks of a gamified web?

Gamification is often used to steal people’s attention away from more productive pursuits. This is becoming more and more of a problem most of us face daily. ‘Click-bait’ might be the ultimate example of these technics effectively wasting people’s time. The Onion’s latest venture (CLICKHOLE) is a hilariously spot-on example, satirizing how click bait captures attention and wastes a site user’s time by directing them to irreverent information. Even ‘reputable’ news sites are now cluttered with attention-grabbing links (after all, these organizations make much of their revenue off of your clicks. More than ever, quality of content is up to your own discretion!) As a result of this almost-impossible-to-ignore clutter, it’s easy to focus our attention on the negative side of these gamification techniques. But let’s not forget the impressive and helpful tools that these techniques are developing.

As always, we have to look past the clutter. Today, marketing agencies are often driving web development; they want you to play their game and to keep on clicking. But with some self-regulation, it’s easy to find these same gamification tools being put to great use. It’s true that the web has now made it all-too easy to become distracted. But it’s also never been easier (or more fun) to learn and accomplish new activities.

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UX Web Design (it’s simple)

User Experience (UX) web design is a redundant concept, really. Shouldn’t all web design be built with usability in mind? Of course it should. And shouldn’t all User Interface (UI) work factor into UX? Absolutely.

Put simply, UX web design was unique because, in testing towards end user experience, it considered elements of: psychology, persuasive design, user personas, and scenario building. The UX Web Design Process was once just one specific methodology in web development. But it is now the most standard build-out processes for web developers, including Gulo. UX-infographic To begin, UX developers build wireframes for a new website or web-based application. These wireframes are essentially a simple roadmap for how the site or app will look and function. They exist to help provide a visual narrative. Wireframes ensure that the web developer and the client are on the same page. These guides are not the foundation for the end product. Although wireframes can often be quite detailed, they are essentially just sketches; but they’re extremely valuable first drafts for just about any web development project.

After the wireframes are built to perfection, the UX Web Design Process can vary. The next step(s) depend on the conceptualization of the project, timetable, or any working needs for the client or web development agency. The common thread here is that this is when some iteration of the ‘testing’ stage begins.

For many projects, clickable prototypes can be helpful at this stage. A clickable prototype is a beta testing site, an interface with functionalities that can be used in the end product. A client can be taken through a number of examples to ensure that the the new project runs as smoothly as possible for its end users. Perhaps counterintutively, this testing stage of UX Web Design can actually be even more crucial than the beginning stages of a new project.

Indeed, the testing stage(s) is where communication is often most important. The client and the Web Developers must both have a crystal clear understanding of the mission this new web-based platform will be driving towards. Who will be using this project? Will there be multiple classes of users? Is important user data being captured? Is this project scalable? lean-ux-page-h-1024x791 There are no shortage of detail-rich models to follow when considering how a site will best service its mission (see example, directly above). But ultimately, what matters is that developers and clients have a deep understanding of the market the new product is serving, that users enjoy interacting with the product, and yes: that the product services the organization’s overlaying mission(s).

The UX Web Design Process has become an antiquated concept. It’s the industry standard. UX design is now simply the prism through which websites and web-based applications are conceptualized and, ultimately, built.

Your Local Business Analyst

It’s been suggested, more than once, that the public sector might run more efficiently if fewer elected officials were lawyers by trade. The examples below (from this 2009 Economist article) illustrate the prevalence of trained lawyers amongst politicians today. The underlying argument is that administrators and decision makers are most effective if they possess a comprehensive, systemic understanding of the machinations they oversee. In short, the public sector would benefit from an expanded perspective at the top level.

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But is this narrow perspective unique to the public sector? Might private sector industries be similarly afflicted? Perhaps even entire fields of study?

How about business analysis at large?

There are no shortage of titles that include the words ‘business analysis’ in their job discription (Taken together, I’ll refer to this broad range of professionals as ‘traditional business analysts’) To be clear, businesses are assessed today from just about every conceivable angle. Our understanding of business models evolves along with the businesses themselves. But stifling habits are formed nonetheless; and habits, as we all know, are hard to break. More than habits, ‘traditions’ are formed, cementing themselves in formal practices. Today, the most trusted voices in the assessment of a business model is expected to be trained in X, Y and/or Z. And we continue to turn to these same ‘voices’ as the market evolves past their perspective.

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But here’s the age-old problem: what if a relatively new factor, we’ll say ‘M’, becomes as vital to many business models as X, Y and Z? Nobody doubts the importance of M, but a new breed of professionals handles matters related to M. This factor is not considered by the ‘traditional’ business analysts (or they outsource that bucket of their assessment) In this example, the traditional business analysts role is suffering from a limited perspective.

I do believe that there are some noteworthy commonalities amongst business analysts today. More importantly, there are some noteworthy skills and training that might be under represented in the resumes of this class of professionals.

Let me back up a bit…

It’s true that many politicians understand their job, first and foremost, from a legal perspective. This fact is often seen as a root cause for entrenched bureaucracy and stifling litigiousness in government. This factor might prevent the public sector from being agile. The argument is that understanding legal channels might be vital for a public administrator, but that this is only one small piece of a much more complicated puzzle. It’s argued that the public sector would function more efficiently if a significantly higher percentage of elected officials had professional backgrounds and training in the fields such as, engineering, finance, computer science or medicine.

9590885-confused-businessmanThe root of this argument is that decision makers are better equipped for their job if they have direct experience building the systems they help administer. This isn’t a new line of thought, as it relates to elected officials. In fact, it’s shared by Americans across the political spectrum. So this isn’t really much of a debate. But this line of thought certainly isn’t limited to influential parties in the public sector!

Here’s a question to consider:

How many business leaders understand how the web-based applications that drive their business are actually built?

That was kind of a trick question. Many of you might have guessed ‘quite a few’. If so, I think you’re right.

Many business leaders today wouldn’t have been able to rise to their positions without a thorough understanding of how their web-based tools are developed. Leaders, regardless of industry, must appreciate just how vital these tools are to their company’s bottom line; today, web-based applications often drive a business’s ability to generate revenue. Indeed, it’s no surprise that so many successful business leaders of the modern era come from a web development background (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs… you already knew this! Shall we move on?)

Don’t worry, I’m not trowing anybody under the bus here! Indeed, the rise of CIOs and CTOs underscore how many (larger) businesses have incorporated web development expertise into their top-level infrastructure.

But what about those traditional business analysts? What about the multitude of analysts who prognosticate, driving opinion on matters, including how new web-based innovations might affect the market? What about the traders and the bankers? What about marketers? What about the professionals who are meant to advise a business on the fundamental changes they might need to implement if they are to grow and compete?

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The industries of speculation and finance are vast in scale, touching every industry. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be stifled by selective training and professional backgrounds. The Web Business Analyst (or, ‘Modern Business Analyst’) is a role many have already deemed to be amongst the most trusted new voices in business analysis at large.

The Web Business Analyst position is the crucial link between a modern business’s web-based needs, and how to actually build these tools. More often, these professionals are now simply called: ‘Business Analysts’.

But this new Business Analyst remains a class of professional whose voice remains underrepresented as we consider the future of individual businesses, and the market at large. The Business Analyst is a professional who understands both web development, as well us the fundamentals of classic business and organizational infrastructure. If web development is ‘M’, and ‘X,Y,Z’ represents the ‘traditional’ training for assessing business, the Business Analyst is trained in M, X, Y, and Z. They see a more comprehensive picture.

For smaller and medium-sized businesses, who often can’t possibly afford a full-time CIO, CTO, or web developer(s), there is a very urgent need for a class of professional such as the modern Business Analyst. Today, they find this professional at web development agencies, or even marketing agencies.

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Web developers build today’s shopping malls and business complexes. They even build the avenues we travel between these web-based systems. Web developers have direct, hands-on experience building the most up-to-date tools for a wide variety of industry. They offer actual experience building the infrastructure and new business models of the day.

When the most successful business leaders are web developers, and the most successful business consultants heed the advice of experienced developers, why do so many trusted analysts not understand the building blocks of web development?

Today, business and web development are too often considered to be separate fields of study. Naturally, individuals who can speak both languages are amongst the most valuable business analysts of the day. In fact, these ARE the Business Analysts of the day.

Their influence will continue to grow.