We use Basecamp to manage projects. It’s great for creating tasks and milestones that can be assigned to those responsible. It keeps conversations neatly organized in threads while you can attach documents/screen shots to these.
There’s loads of similar web based services out there. But although they might be easy to use, this is in no way a guarantee that people stay on top of recording (or even completing!) their tasks. A few weeks into the project you often find that the whole group, previously collaborating in one space, have moved the whole thing offline, into their separate in-boxes and what have you. Now things have turned a little bit Texas.
Perhaps this happens because most systems are designed around the users functional needs while the motivational and emotional bits are completely ignored. Well, you may say… does it matter if a system is boring to use if it does what it says on the tin..?
That’s true if you’re happy to get on with things, tick the check box when the job is done and don’t worry much about the mundane aspect of it all… But if you’re one of us ‘daydreaming slackers’ who are driven mad by this humdrum type activity then you might need a little ‘kick’ to get going.
In spite of having the same functional needs to complete a task, we’re rarely motivated by the same stuff. Some take pleasure in seeing a completed check list, others can only recall what a painful job it was to get there. You can split these groups of preferences into even smaller ones. That’s why it is an enormous challenge to design motivational aspects into services.
Reward and punishment are two very common strategies for motivation. Often only one is in use at a time:
Sometimes, the two are in use simultaneously… “If you eat all your peas, you’ll get dessert…”
I don’t think there’s any doubt that collaborative systems would be much more effective if they were designed with motivational features. Just look at games – using both strategies, they’re designed to make us desire to progress to the next level.
An example of this is Farmville on Facebook. Keep on top of your farmer responsibilities and you’ll earn money. Forget, and your crop will wilt. The horror. It’s unpleasant.
Obviously farming won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but neither will, uhmm, time sheeting…
Anyway, Famville is a FB application that cleverly gives the user a clear incentive to frequently spam their walls with game info at the same time as giving their friends a reason to lurk around their wall, waiting for this to happen…
The game keeps you fussing and caring for your farm by giving you ribbons whenever you’ve accomplished a goal. In true FB style, there’s a ribbon for nearly everything – harvest enough to build your cash reserve, then buy a few buildings and hey hey presto – you’re awarded a great architect ribbon and a gift.
Pick fruit from at least 5 trees and you’ll get the amazingly rare “knock on wood ribbon”. The ribbons are then posted on your wall so you can bask in a well deserved glory – but wait! Just because you’re so great, your friends should get rewarded too…. click [ Get a bonus from Elin ] and a bonus sum will be added to your game money. Clever. Now I feel guilty when I don’t share these posts on my wall.
(I’m not going to mention names, but there’s quite a few loiterers hanging around my wall these days….)
There’s lots more to Farmville, but that’s not the point of this post. Neither is to turn Basecamp or similar services into Farmville…
For all of us who design services, it is very important to put aside purely functional needs for some moments and think about how to motivate users.
I’d be gutted if I logged into Basecamp and found all my tasks wilted. On the other hand, life would be quite alright if every hour entered in my Harvest timesheets resulted in some beautiful, personal data visualisation at the end of the month.. or better yet, I could pick up a bonus reward every time @stueccles completes his:)