Why my Follow150 Quest stopped being fun: Discovering Gamification

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I skid down one of rocky paths that lie between the mountainous ranges of Webland onto a wide ridge. A few blossom trees are dotted along the ridge, their roots gripping the shallow earth and branches splayed across the face of the mountain. The smell of fresh blossoms reaches me and I look down at the small pink garland twisted around my wrist. The thirty hand-picked blossoms are connected together by a thin silver strand and when I bring it to my nose, I still smell the fainter musky sweetness coming from it.

On each of the blossoms is the name of someone, a stranger in Webland whose words made me want to reach out and follow them. But in my 2nd week on the follow 150 quest, I have not been so successful.

The excitement and drive I felt whilst discovering those first people follow has fizzled out. I know those inspiring and interesting writers, bloggers and speakers are still out there, so why has it become so boring to seek them out when just a week ago it was invigorating.

I decided to to delve deeper into why this may have changed and my searches led me to the field of gamification.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems.

Definition: Wikipedia

Below were two slides about the setting of incremental goals in games. Its taken from the excellent Meaningful Play. Getting »Gamification« Right presentation and Google Talk from Sebastian Deterding.

slide-84-728       slide-86-728

I compare this to the weekly goals I set on Follow 150 and you can spot the problem straight away.

Week 1: 30 Follows –> Week 2: 36 Follows –> Week 3: 42 Follows –> Week 4: 42 Follows

Not much depth, variety or complexity. So I’ve attempted to apply these and revise the Follow 150 quest:

  • Goal 1: Total 30 Follows
  • Goal 2: Total 80 Follows, follow 40 of the most influential people in one chosen area
  • Goal 3: Total 115 Follows, follow 35 based only on new recommendations of existing follows
  • Goal 4: Sort all followed people into categories, Total 150 Follows

If you’re inspired to take up this digital quest too, I’d love to know to what you think of these revised goals. Feel free to start this with your own timetable and let me know how you get on in the comments.

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On the ridge of the mountain, I walk to the shade of the nearest tree with its trunk and branches curving out over the edge. I pull myself up into its arms and when I lean my body into the rough bark a small flurry of blossoms begin to fall. I reach out a hand to catch one, but then between the swaying branches, I see it.

A dense forest fills the valley so there is no ground in sight, but there at its centre looms four white towers and walls. The gleaming fortress holds within it the secrets and masters for the area I’ve picked to follow; Gamification.

I jump down from the tree and start to skip my way down towards the forest. The image of the fortress still fresh in my mind, I know with growing certainty that I must try to reach it. I do not know how I will do it, but I feel the impatience of my thoughts stirred by the beginnings of another quest.

To compete in Gammify 2013:  The World’s Largest Gamification Challenge.

 

Talking to Strangers

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It’s the end of the first week in the follow 150 challenge and I have successfully found 30 strangers to follow. Yeah.

I kicked off my online connections with these people to a grand total of…1 comment left. Hmm.

This is harder than I thought it would be. I’d like to excuse my lagging on the commenting as being pressed for time, but I don’t have to dig very deep to know this isn’t entirely true. I’ve never found talking to new people easy. Making those connections to a stranger at a party or event brings out my own special brand of awkwardness. So no big surprise, another introverted blogger.

I was standing in a room at one of those networking events recently. You know, where everyone is meant to just introduce yourself, ask something insightful, answer interestingly, repeat.

Instead I stood in the corner forming an opening line in my head until the room would clear, repeat.  I would check my thirst levels, bladder levels or overwhelming need for another little triangle sandwich, and then would walk across the room looking purposeful, repeat.

Its ok I’m not speaking to you because look, I need to pee or make tea! Preferably not at the same time.

I feel my alternative digital existence wrapped around me at these times. Like a safe cocoon I let it surround me.  I create and write the flowing words in my head and this I think excuses the lack of them in that moment. I don’t have to fully engage in this real world because my digital one is what matters. I turn my internet adventure on its head and imagine myself as the explorer thrown instead into an alien visceral world.  I catalogue my observations of these strange beings and interactions, but must leave the local ecosystem undisturbed.

Here in the internet, I assumed it would be easier to talk to strangers. I thought perhaps I would finally shed my cocoon and transform into a social media butterfly.

Wasn’t that the point of the challenge, wasn’t that the trick I tried to play on myself? To force myself to not only follow along with the conversation and observe, but to actually make a connection to people.

The gap between online and offline is not so easily divided though. I carry my phobias with me in my digital self and the blank space at the bottom of a post seems to challenge me with the same expectant stare. Here in webland, I realise I am still tightly wrapped in the webbing of my cocoon.

I imagine people as blossoms, stars in the sky or pebbles on the road. Everything except what they really are because then there is no chance of judgement or rejection. If they are not real people, then there is no risk that they will disappoint or worse, I will. I emerge not as a butterfly, but the same pondering shy caterpillar faced was the same challenges in another guise.

The Quest to Follow 150

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I awake in the dawn of a new day in Webland to the sound of tapping. I open my eyes open to the see the old man in his white robes, dancing around a cherry blossom tree, hitting it with his stick.

“Are you just going to lie there all day?” He says, as he leaps in the air to reach a particularly high branch and shakes a fresh batch of blossoms to the ground.

“I was just thinking.” I reply, bothered by the acquisition in his tone, but I don’t know if he hears me over the sounds of intensified thwacking.

So I shout a little too loudly. “I was thinking about how I would go about finding 150 people to follow?” And turn to gesture at one of the multiple roads open to me to meet this quest objective.

  1. Freshly Pressed: Friday Faves on WordPress
  2. Blogs of Note from Blogger
  3. Friday Follows on Twitter
  4. Website and apps intended to help you find Twitter e.g Wefollow.com
  5. Other recommendations from other bloggers, top 10, award lists etc

Behind me I hear the building rhythm of his taps continue undisturbed. I look at the long paths in front of me still daunted.

“I want to make sure I go in the right direction. You know. So I know I’m following the right people.” I shout and my voice falters in the sudden quiet that falls.

When I look back around, the old man is sitting cross legged in the bed of fresh pink blossoms on the ground. The white gnarled stick balanced across his thighs, his eyes are closed and body is perfectly still. A few remaining flowers fall and settle on him and without opening his eyes, he speaks in a gruff voice.

“And you have been thinking about this for how long?”

“Well er… its been maybe 6 days.” I reply, as I think back to my last A to Z post.

He looks up at me then and lets my own words hang in the silence. Sweeping his stick across the space in front of him, he marks out a clean semi-circle of ground in front of him and gestures for me to come closer. I step into the small space filled with the smell of sweet blossoms.

“Now is not the time for thinking.” He says and reaches out a hand to pick a single blossom from the pile that surrounds us. He holds it out to me and I cup the flower in my palm.

I can just make out the faint spiral symbol of an @ and a name, when a gust of wind blows it from my hand. I turn trying to grasp it again, but the wind blows stronger still and suddenly all the blossoms are twisting away from the ground.

I brace against the rising wind trying to dig my toes into the ground. I look down to see the old man still sitting on the ground. His robe flaps against his calm unmoving body at the centre of the swirling flowers and he grins at me.

“Now is the time for doing.” He shouts and laughs above the growing din of the wind around us.

I stand caught in the flurry of blossoms twisting up into the sky. Their petals are a blur as they fly past, I reach out both hands and feel the blossoms flow between my outstretched fingers and feel the nervous butterflies in my stomach as I know I must begin.

In May, I will catch and follow a total of hopefully 150 people via blogs and twitter. This breaks down as:

Week 1: 30 Follows

Week 2: 36 Follows

Week 3: 42 Follows

Week 4: 42 Follows

Rules:

  • They must be people or groups of people, who inspire and interest me (no random clicking allowed)
  • They must be new people I’ve come across as strangers online (no colleagues, friends or family)
  • I will contact them at least once via comment or tweet (hopefully saying something meaningful)

If you fancy doing this challenge yourself, I’d love some shared moral support and feedback on this digital quest. Feel free to start this with your own 4 week timetable and just let me know in the comments or link back of your own experiences.