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I’m still fascinated by what lessons social media can draw from game design, and Amy Jo Kim’s work in the area.

One of her game mechanics is “earning points”, and this is one of the ways that social media sites can incent the behaviour they want.

One way to earn points would be to keep a create a complex scoring system rewarding multiple user behaviours that you want exhibited. If you were worried about it getting “gamed” by users, you could go so far as to keep the scoring system opaque so that users didn’t know exactly how points were earned.

Another, simpler, way, is to simply keep track of each behaviour that you want separately, and prominently displaying those metrics for each user. This works especially well when the points are “awarded” by other players – taking advantage of another of her game mechanics – Feedback.

Yelp does a nice job of this second approach. Look at a typical Yelp user page

Yelp Profile Page

Note that each number (circled in red) corresponds to a user behaviour that Yelp wants. Most important of all is the number of reviews – in this case 26. But almost as important is that those reviews are of high quality – that they are Useful (45), Funny (4) or Cool (11). Readers of reviews can with one click rate a review as Useful, Funny or Cool, and this positive feedback incents users to write reviews that will earn the appropriate feedback.

Another important metric for Yelp is Firsts (7) as this helps drive the coverage ratio of businesses that have at least one review.

All these metrics help drive overall usefulness of the site for a casual visitor to Yelp . The remaining metrics help drive Yelp ‘s social network, their mechanism for rewarding review writers without having to pay them. Hence Yelp tracks the number of photos you’ve uploaded, the number of compliments you’ve received (by type) and the number of friends that you have. I suspect that these are all positively correlated with the number and quality of reviews that a user writes.

An interesting point to note is that while reviewers rate businesses with 1-5 stars, users can only rate a review as Useful, Funny or Cool. There is no option to rate a review as Useless, Lame or Boring. Thumbs up, but no thumbs down. Why the difference? I suspect its because reviewers drive Yelp . Positive feedback is more likely to drive more reviews than negative feedback. (One of the “compliments” that Yelp users can send each other is even more explicit – “Write More!”). On the other hand, giving a business a poor rating (1 star for example) won’t change their behaviour towards the site one way or the other, and it is valuable information to users.

I like this “keep it simple” approach to earning points far more than a single point score based off of multiple behaviours.

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Last month I posted about the difference in building websites for the Time Rich vs the Time Poor.

The Annenberg School’s Online Journalism Review has a great summary of findings from Nielsen’s eyetracking studies about how to optimize writing and web page design for a Time Poor audience. It’s highly recommended.

The study’s results about crotch fixations are troubling though…
George Brett eye tracking study

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The NYT published an article about barcodes for cellphones in yesterday’s Sunday Times. The article does a good job summarizing many of the benefits of using your cell phone as a barcode scanner that can translate specialized two-dimensional barcodes from print or other offline media into some piece of digital information – a URL, a coupon, a ticket, etc. We think the concept is long overdue – barcodes and cellphones can bridge the offline world with the online world in many compelling ways. But frankly, we were surprised to even see an article in reference to barcode use in the US, as we believe the structural nature of the wireless industry here will keep us from enjoying the benefits of cellphone barcodes for a long time to come.

It will be difficult, as the article points out, for barcodes to enjoy widespread use if a client download is required to make things work. This is where the carriers can significantly accelerate adoption, by getting their handset vendors to pre-load the software onto phones so that barcode functionality comes by default. But alas, what’s in it for the carriers? More data traffic? A cut of advertising revenue?

Surely there are multiple business models that could make sense for carriers to offer barcode services, but that’s where the coordination issue comes in. Today, there are multiple standards for barcode technologies and multiple ways to implement those solutions on handsets. Would Canon want to run a magazine ad for its latest camcorder featuring a “for more information” barcode that could only be read by Sprint subscribers? Maybe, but that’s not nearly as compelling as if they could use a single barcode that would be accessible to any mobile subscriber, regardless of carrier. Think of it like a URL. Imagine if each website had to have a different URL depending on which ISP its users were coming through. At this point in the US, there is no equivalent of ICANN for barcodes, so there is no standardization and no coordination around this concept, which means, in our opinion, that US mobile subscribers will be cheated out of a very compelling and convenient user experience for quite awhile.

It’s a shame, really, but contrast this to China, where we think barcodes have a much better shot of making it to prime time. Lightspeed invested in a cellphone barcode company based in Beijing called Gmedia. We think the China market has a few key ingredients for the success of barcodes. First, China Mobile accounts for roughly 80% of the 400M+ wireless subscribers in the country. If you can strike a relationship with China Mobile, as Gmedia has for the “DM Code” flavor of barcodes, much of the coordination issue gets solved – China Mobile’s choice becomes the de facto standard. Advertisers can rest assured that if they go to the trouble of putting barcodes in their ads, most cellphone users will be able to use them. Second, China has almost 3x as many cellphone subscribers as broadband users, and the handset is the communications and internet device of choice for most people. Gmedia’s solution makes surfing the mobile web a heck of a lot more convenient than keying in URLs on a number pad. See an ad with a barcode, scan it, and your phone’s browser automatically takes you to the right destination on the web – no keying required. Finally, if China Mobile gets behind barcodes, it can exert alot of pressure on handset makers to pre-load the barcode software on handsets, which will be a pre-requisite for getting advertisers excited about incorporating barcodes into their ad campaigns. Nothing like the potential to reach 400M new customers with a new hook to motivate some experimentation.  China Mobile is poised to start exerting that pressure this year, so hopefully the barcode flywheel will start spinning in China very soon.

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Jay Gould (President and co-founder of Bolt.com) recently commented on one of my posts and posted himself about Amy Jo Kim‘s fantastic work on game mechanics and how they apply to social networks and user generated content. I …

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I missed two posts earlier this month with the same general theme, that the best way to come up with a new web company is to take an old idea that works, and recycle it.

Marc Hedlund (founder of Wesabe

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Today’s release of Google’s Cost-Per-Action (CPA) beta has generated a lot of attention. Most are focusing on the impact on affiliate networks such as Commission Junction or Link Share as the test is currently confined to Adsense ads that …

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Broadly speaking, there are two types of internet users, Time Rich (more time than money) and Time Poor (more money than time). I’d speculate that many of the readers of this blog fall into the Time Poor category, but …

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Since my earlier post on “Three ways to build an online media business to $50m in revenues” was well received, I thought I’d examine the e-commerce industry as well.

The margin structure in most (physical) ecommerce businesses is …

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As my previous post indicated, it is not easy to build an online media company to $50m in revenue. Depending on whether you’re broad reach, demographically focused, or can support endemic advertisers, you need to get to top 10, top …

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I’m speaking at the Web 2.0 Expo in April. Its a “how to” conference for people who are starting in or working at web 2.0 companies and companies that aspire to be “web 2.0″. The organizers have lined up a …

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