Crowd Sourcing + Game Mechanics

The latest buzzword in the industry at the moment seems to be crowd sourcing otherwise known as citizen science or more specifically to our GIS volunteered geographic information (VGI), which is the idea of using the community to voluntarily collect field data.

There are loads of examples of projects where crowd sourcing has been successfully implemented including our own work with ClimateWatch and the broader Atlas of Living Australia, but the thing that really interests me is how to take this idea to the next level where a significant proportion of the population are engaged.

According to a study recently released in the United States by Nielsen there are two things that really engage internet users (in the US anyway) – Social Networks and Online Games. According to the study Americans spend over 1500 million hours a month online doing either of these two things, which is about 25% of total internet usage and climbing fast. I couldn’t find a comparable study for Australia, but I think we could safely assume that the percentages would be similar. Imagine if just a small percentage of this time could be put towards something actually useful!

The reason that online games are so engaging is that they are deliberately designed that way from the ground up; essentially their only purpose in existing is to be fun. There is a great TED talk by Tom Chatfield that identifies the methods that games use to create engagement, these are listed below but I would highly recommend watching the talk for more detail.

  1. Using an experience system
  2. Multiple long and short term aims
  3. Reward effort
  4. Rapid feedback
  5. Uncertainty
  6. Windows of enhanced attention
  7. Other people

Of course it’s not as simple to use these engagement principles for a crowd sourcing application as with an online game, as I mentioned earlier games only exist to be fun but a crowd sourcing application is trying to solve a real world problem and this creates constraints on design.  But if some of these game mechanics principles could be applied maybe we could achieve better community engagement and most importantly better science.

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