Scaling games

Scalability is something I’ve been thinking about recently. What works at one level may not work at another.

Foursquare is a prominent example of this. As a social service, it should benefit from network effects. The more people participating, the more information between interconnected nodes of people and places.

Yet the major draw of Foursquare – the gaming aspects around badges and mayorship – is not designed to scale.

There can only be one mayor of a locale. Six months ago, I was Mayor of two Cineworlds, the O2 Academy in Brixton, the Liberty building and The White Horse, among others. But as more people use the service, becoming a Mayor of somewhere becomes more difficult. Rather than swarm at a single venue, people are creating sub-venues (“the table in the corner”) or irrelevant landmarks (“the lamppost off Acacia Avenue”) in order to become Mayor.

To become a Mayor of somewhere, you need a regular routine. Therefore, the place you work is the place you are most likely to be Mayor of. Of course, if more than one Foursquare user works at the same location then Mayorship will switch depending on holidays.

If staff are the most likely to be Mayors, then there is little point offering incentives to Mayors. Why give a free mocha to the Mayor of the Starbucks at Parsons Green when the Mayor is the duty manager who opens up six mornings a week?

Furthermore, the badges are also fading into insignificance. Sponsored and location or chain-specific badges mean there is no objective challenge in collecting them; rewards are based on good fortune or a willingness to participate in marketing activity.

The gaming mechanics need to be fundamentally altered if Foursquare is going to remain relevant (unless of course it contracts back to a size where the system works).

. Collecting additional information on visits (for instance, to distinguish staff and patrons) would be too cumbersome. The most obvious way to change the system is overhauling the Mayoral system. It is not enough to have a single Mayor at a location. Instead, additional levels of visitors – such as councillors and citizens – should be created, with different incentives and rewards. This instantly becomes more scalable.

Scaling games is incredibly problematic. For instance, I’ve played Home Run Battle 3D quite a lot on my phone, yet am not even in the top 1,000 scores. My obscurity means the leaderboard holds no incentive for me to improve.

The joy of games (or at least one of them) is in the competitive edge it brings to social activity. The guys behind Cadbury’s Pocketgame recognise this. Rather than rank performances, they instead focus on the intrinsic joy of competing. The overall aggregation of spots vs stripes offers an additional edge to bragging rights, but is largely arbitrary. The campaign is about playing. I like it.

Moving away from games, the biggest issue, for me at least, in scalability is time. Time is finite, and in a world of ever-increasing choice the need for editors and aggregators is ever greater. The Paradox of Choice is very real, and I’m increasingly reliant on “shortcut” services to find the right balance between effectiveness and efficiency – whether it is Twitter lists enabling me to go straight to the contacts I am closest to, or Expedia allowing me to book flights, transport and hotels at the same time.

In the research world, scalability is the reason why qualitative research only currently accounts for around 10-15% of billings. It is inherently more time and labour intensive. The more people spoken to, the longer the interview process, transcription, editing and analysis time. Quantitative work – particularly online – is scalable. Analysis times may vary, but the set-up of a survey sample of 100 or 10,000 is essentially the same.

Could online qualitative research scale – whether “netnography”, communities or traditional methods transplanted online? Possibly. Siamack Salari has shown with his ethnography mobile application that it is possible to outsource tasks and functions to individual respondents. But the dynamics of a 30 person research community are very different to a 3,000 person community. Even with automatic coding, transcriptions and sentiment analysis (if such a thing is even possible to be accurate), the culture of a large community is such that norms and behaviours get moulded by the “power users”. This may be more natural in some respects, but might make fulfilling the objectives of the research harder. And for this reason, I’m sceptical as to the scalability of online qualitative research.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/monana7/3622111882/

Recommended Reading – 25th July 2010

The second and final group of links from the past month I recommend you click on is below:

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Recommended reading – 24th July 2010

I’ve been a bit neglectful of this blog over the past month or two. Come September, this should change.

I haven’t written a “recommended reading” post for over a month, so I will rectify that by posting two this weekend, featuring the very best of the various articles and blogs I’ve read over the past five weeks.

Without further ado, the first seven links I would strongly suggest that you click on are:

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The disrupters in the crowd

Last weekend I went to the Latitude festival, in Suffolk. It’s billed as a family-friendly arts festival (it has comedy, theatre, film, literary and poetry stages in addition to music) and the programme was fantastic.

While I personally had a great time (The National, Laura Marling and Rodrigo y Gabriela being my musical highlights), the festival experience took a clear step away from its family-friendly roots, intentional or otherwise. The most extreme example of this is that two women were raped at the festival. This is obviously horrific news, and the organisers need to take serious action to minimise the chances of this happening again.

However, two less serious instances got me thinking about the nature of crowds and communities.

There were a large number of teenagers at Latitude. The excitement of being away from home and in a field with various stimulants and depressants, combined with general self-centred teenage exuberance, meant that a large portion of the crowd was quite boisterous.

Tom Jones fielded this deftly. In a set consisting exclusively of new material (his Johnny Cash American records direction), he was regularly heckled with calls to sing Sex Bomb. He was continually able to deflect these calls in a calm and charismatic manner.

Calm is not a word that would be used to describe Alice Glass of Crystal Castles. She likes to spend the majority of her shows crowdsurfing, and this was no different. However, she took a particular exception to a couple of fans who she felt had inappropriately groped her. After punching and kicking a couple of them, she left the stage mid-set.

The nature of these events is that the music (or noise, in Crystal Castles’ case) is central, but the crowd augment this by providing the atmosphere. And this atmosphere can be positive or negative – enthusiastic crowds can spur additional encores, antipathetic crowds can ruin the event for those around them.

This is also the case with online communities. There is a central purpose that draws people in (such as the content covered or, if it is a research community, a financial incentive), but the enjoyment of the experience is dependent on the community dynamic.

A community with a disruptive troll or two can be destroyed from within. Banning community members should only ever be a last resort, as it can set a dangerous precedent for idiosyncratic rules. Ideally, it requires careful moderation to disarm disrupters and avoid feeding trolls, so that eventually they  lose interest or conforming to the social norms of the group.

Tom Jones seems like he would be good at community moderation. Alice Glass wouldn’t be.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/menti/4808191073/ – a shame I didn’t realise Mario was there until I got home

Five big things in media

We at Essential were having an internal discussion yesterday, over what we think the five major things to happen to media and communications will be over the next 12 months within the UK.

We all know that trends are notoriously difficult to discern and predict, since they are gradual rather than binary. Something like Digital Switchover might be the exception to the rule (when implemented correctly), but generally these things tend to sneak up on you.

Take the “Year of Mobile” as an example. Although Mary Meeker’s definition of a mainstream inflexion point as being 20% penetration (slide 8 of her latest trends report) would suggest 2010 is the Year of Mobile, I’ve noticed a large shift from people saying “Next year is the Year of Mobile” to “Last year was the Year of Mobile”.

So with that in mind, I spent five minutes thinking about various issues and came up with the following five trends

  • Location-based information gains traction among a niche – through tools such as Foursquare Layers
  • Narrowing distinction between broadcast and web-based offeringsYoutube Leanback, Project Canvas and multi-platform media players from the likes of BBC and Sky blur the boundaries between delivery mechanisms
  • Persistence of the blockbuster – despite media fragmentation, the social aspects of media and entertainment mean blockbusters are becoming even bigger to compensate – whether The Lost Symbol, Avatar, X Factor or Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
  • Decline of critic proof content – This will be a gradual affair, but eventually rotten offerings will become more visible earlier due to social media. For instance, Sex & The City 2 did considerably worse at the box office than its predecessor
  • PR becoming more proactive – Twitterstorms are showing the dangers of trying to sweep things under the carpet. Ask Trafigura or BP

The big caveat is that this took me five minutes. It was therefore things from the top of my mind, and is probably a bit skewed towards recent announcements (Foursquare Layers and Youtube Leanback having been announced within the past week).

If I’d spent a bit longer, I’d have probably mentioned privacy/personal data – though reading Scott’s post earlier, it would seem that this isn’t such an issue for the general public.

As a quick thought exercise, I’m fairly satisfied with what I came up with, though they are so amorphous and vague that it might be difficult to say whether these trends have progressed at all. Nevertheless, I’ll revisit these in 12 months to see if any movement has been made

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barkbud/4165385634/

Spreading birthday cheer

Yesterday was my birthday. Among the birthday messages I received was an email from Stick Sports.

This is an online game that I hadn’t thought about for a while, let alone played. Yet they used the information I provided in my sign-up, to send me a message. This in turn has reminded me of the site (I haven’t gone back to play Stick Cricket or Stick Baseball yet, but I’m writing about it).

Some people might consider this an invasion of privacy since I didn’t give explicit permission for them to contact me. But it is an innocuous yet relevant message to me, that is extremely simple to administer. As such, I’m amazed more companies don’t do it.

For instance, the majority of emails in my inbox yesterday were Facebook notifications, informing me of friends writing messages on my wall. Although personal information is becoming more private, many people do have their birthdays visible. There is a great opportunity for brands or celebrities to send birthday messages to their fans, either to show they are there and listening, or to inform them of a special birthday-only offer. A simple, but effective means of communicating with supporters.

This is a ploy that can also be used for research panel respondents. For instance, why not give them additional tokens for prize draws on their birthday? It doesn’t cost anything and has the potential to improve their engagement with the panel.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gizzypooh/539662773/

MRS Mobile Insights Conference

The first Mobile Insights Conference, hosted by the Market Research Society, took place in London this week. I was in attendance.

I’ve mentioned my thoughts on the word insight several times in the past. Did I take away many insights from the day? No. Were the talks useful? In parts. Was it worth attending? Yes

Although the first use of a mobile phone for research was over ten years ago, the techniques available on the devices are still in their infancy. This means we are still in the experimentation stage of understanding what can be achieved on mobile – compelling innovations and applications of research do exist, but are rare.

As such, the projects discussed over the course of the day were largely (but not exclusively) small and tactical. It would have been great to hear of any companies really embracing mobile research to inform strategy, but perhaps we haven’t yet got to this stage.

Given the relative lack of application, the day largely focused upon the mechanics of mobile research. A topic not particularly attractive to research buyers – I counted two research buyers on the delegate list alongside attendees from research agencies and suppliers (discounting speakers). While it important to collaborate as an industry, the realities of competitive advantage meant that, with the odd exception, research agencies aren’t going to be particularly candid about learnings when they are speaking to other research agencies.

Those gripes aside, I did take some several useful things from the day.

Tim Snaith, OnePoint Mobile Surveys – Defining the Future

After some opening remarks from this OnePoint colleague Neil Jessop, Tim Snaith took the floor to talk about the immediate future. Some of the points he made include:

  • “If we define mobile research in a certain way, it will be adopted in a certain way”. Instead, we should be open-minded as how people ultimately choose to engage with the mobile will define how we can engage with them
  • There is currently no knowledge base in mobile so we need to build foundations with case studies and open reports
  • Downtime on the computer is decreasing because there is so much on there to keep us busy. Mobile is now the device for downtime, creating opportunities for surveys
  • Blending computer and mobile research isn’t ideal, since the space restrictions on mobile mean you are effectively asking different questions
  • International mobile research needs to consider the different regulatory and technological requirements in each market (for instance, different networks use different character sets in SMS)

Alex Wilde, Globalpark – Tracking trends

Alex defined the four types of research that can be conducted on a mobile as a survey (e.g. invited by a banner ad), diary, storytelling (capturing stimulus) and netnography.

An issue with surveys is that there are over 3,000 combinations of mobile handset, browser, operating system and so on. Ensuring usability is therefore a challenge. Within survey design, he advocated drop down boxes rather than radio buttons, and limiting text boxes to a single line field

With regards to some of their mobile studies

  • They receive 35% of responses within the first hour (Lightspeed say they received 60% of completes in the first 15 minutes and 90% within the first hour – evidently research design will be more indicative than overall methodology trends)
  • When survey respondents were asked after a few questions if they would like to continue the survey and, if so, where; 70% of iPhone users said they would continue on their phone but 90% of non iPhone users said they would prefer to continue on their computer
  • 90% of respondents were willing to share their location via GPS

Tom Webber, Nielsen – Smartphone trends and opportunities

Tom shared several statistics with the audience:

  • Smartphone penetration in the UK grew from 12% to 20% in Q1 2010 (smartphone defined by an operating system such as iOS or Android)
  • As the prices of phones rises, long term ARPU falls (presumably this was down to unlimited data charges and the need to bundle SMS rather than charge individually?)
  • Net Promoter Scores for smartphone owners are fifteen points higher than those for featurephone owners (26 vs 11)
  • 64% of iPhone users use apps daily, compared to 52% of Android users and 38% of other phone users
  • The Apple App Store has 84% satisfaction; the Android Marketplace has 81%. Apple performs better on range of apps and download experience; Android wins on ease of browsing and discovery
  • American 13-17 year olds sent an average of 3142 texts a month in Q1 2010 (I believe this figure includes twitter and facebook updates); the figure for under 12s was 1152
  • In the US, Twitter accounts for 42% of phone messages sent; Facebook for 16% (though I believe GSMA data has Facebook far ahead in the UK, at least in terms of time spent)

Patrick Hourihan, Yahoo! – APPetite

Patrick (Disclosure: an ex Essential employee although, like in Ghostbusters, our streams never crossed) was the first speaker to give a presentation, rather than read a report, and it was probably my favourite talk of the day in terms of interesting content (if not practical application).

After some general industry statistics (such as 11m social network users via mobile, 5.7m people downloading games and 11m using mobile media for entertainment, he ran through the methodology for APPetite

  • Online diary and forum
  • Focus groups in London and Manchester
  • Depth interviews with in situ mobile usage
  • 2,000 person online survey among 16-65 year old mobile media users (done online as mobile doesn’t give the depth or the same level of representativeness)
  • Mobile app survey using Research Now’s real-time data collection tool (I think the questions were regarding which app was used, where and how it compared to online)

Things the research covered either qualitatively or quantitatively include

  • Consumer expectations have shifted from functional use to emotional use
  • Nearly as many use mobile for entertainment (58%, if you include social networking) as they do functional (63%)
  • There is a claimed decline in snacking, with longer usage sessions
  • Brands have been mapped to times of day, with the BBC, Facebook, Google and Yahoo! in use across the entire day
  • Apps have the wow factor among users, and satisfaction of services (such as Facebook) is higher for the app than the for the web (NB: This wasn’t broken down by operating system)
  • However, there is some confusion over what an app is (e.g. it could be a  shortcut to a website)
  • 55% don’t have a preference between an app and web so long as they can fulfil their specific needs
  • When a mobile service doesn’t work, 44% blame the brand, 34% the phone and 29% the network

Siamack Salari, Everydaylives – Using mobile for ethnography

Siamack’s talk was the only brazen sales pitch of the day, but it was justified since he was the only person speaking with a genuinely groundbreaking (or so it seemed to me) research technique – a mobile application where people can capture audio, video and pictures, tag it and upload it to a central server to be sorted, filtered, analysed and edited.They can comment and feedback on the information others compile.

The iPhone app cost £5,000 to develop (whereas the BlackBerry app cost around £60,000) and will allow ethnography to be conducted on a larger scale. Previously, he would film 2 hours of footage a day over several days, conduct interviews separately and then spend time editing the reams of footage.

The app come with a small price, but he is shortly going to launch a consumer version, which is free and would allow people to effectively sell their lives to willing buyers. He mentioned that, independent of this, Coca Cola and P&G approached him about fitting out their workforces with the application.

Learnings from his first four studies are

  • Not all iPhone users are familiar with iTunes, and so will need to be walked through app installation
  • A template of how to shoot video is required for a consistent quality of submissions
  • Research needs to be designed carefully to avoid it altering people’s behaviour
  • He has facilitated post-filming opt-outs, where he gives people an email address and a code, in case they want to have their privacy protected in their friends’ film

Leonie Hodge, Channel 4 and Anthony Cox, Sparkler – Using SMS to uncover drivers of viewing

As a cost effective alternative to ethnography (and allowing a greater sample), Channel 4 commissioned Sparkler to conduct research into drivers of viewing using 24 depth interviews, 9 in-home evening visits and 35 media diaries lasting for 6 days using a combination of mobile and paper.

Essentially, on days 1, 3 and 5 Sparkler would text the respondents to ask them what they were going to watch on TV that evening. They would send several messages (manually) if requiring clarification or reminding. On days 2, 4 and 6 people would fill in a standard consumption diary of what they watched the previous evening.

The research showed that there were very few appointment to view programmes (a disappointment?), and the majority of consumption was last-minute or spontaneous decision making.

Sparkler’s advise was to

  • Get the stakeholders to pilot the technique, in order to engage them with the process
  • Keep it as simple as possible for the respondent
  • Design the outputs so analysis can be as efficient as possible

AJ Johnson, Ipsos MORI – Using mobile to gain greater customer insights

AJ was the exception in that he was quite open and candid about Ipsos MORI’s various experiments with mobile research – both successes and failures. Initiatives include

  • Using mobile for passive media consumption for radio (via ambient sound recording) and posters (via GPS)
  • Quick polls for PR purposes
  • Comparisons to online research, which showed that mobile surveys took longer with shorter answers and a lower response rate, but that quality of response (recall, in this instance) was higher
  • Multimedia diaries – they invited 1,000 people to take part in recording their weekend activities. 200 agreed to take part, but only 37 provided usable material. They had asked for 4 diaries a day from people, but received an average of 2.7 per person (they tended to be photos)
  • Software they have been experimenting with includes Microsoft Pivot and The Link (unsurprisingly, I can’t find the link)

Gavin Sugden, T-Mobile – Measuring customer satisfaction via SMS

Gavin was also exceptional, in the sense that his was the only example of SMS research being used more strategically. T-Mobile changed their customer satisfaction survey from a 20 minute CATI survey to an SMS survey of around 6 questions – 3 standard questions and 3 from a battery of 15. They found SMS would be a better capture method and more cost effective than CATI, IVR or the mobile web, though Gavin didn’t seem to have a problem with privacy, saying that people could delete the messages if they didn’t want to respond (T-Mobile customers would be contacted within 24 hours of purchase in-store, web activity or phoning customer services).

With people only eligible to complete one survey in 60 days, they are seeing a 20% response rate.

They have an online reporting tool, which allows analysis of quantitative data and aut0-coding of verbatims.

They currently use the results for performance management (e.g. benchmarking stores) but are moving towards coaching and development of staff, and seeking of ways to improve customer satisfaction. They are also going to start include campaign awareness questions

Liam Corcoran, Fly Research – Insights into alcohol consumption

Liam walked us through a case study from a study he ran for Mintel, looking at alcohol consumption of young adults. Rather than hazy recollections, they used mobile research for in situ response. At 10pm each night, they would send an SMS with a link to a 7 question mobile internet survey.

He also talked a bit more generally about their mobile panel research.

  • They tend to receive 60% response rates from their panels and 20% from cold sample
  • 50% of their responses come within the hour and the vast majority within 24 hours
  • He wouldn’t recommend a mobile internet survey of more than 15 questions
  • Mobile is a great tool for a follow-up to online research, if just a couple of additional answers are needed

Sarah Sanderson and Jason Vir, Kantar Media – Integrating mobile with other research techniques

Sarah and Jason gave the last talk by going through a very recent project they ran during England’s World Cup campaign (presumably the project was ran specifically for the Conference; it must be nice to have the resources to be able to do that!)

The research was designed to access the emotional response in real-time, which they felt would be more honest and truthful

If I remember correctly, they:

  • Recruited people to the project based on answers to questions in TGI Sport+ and TGI Postscript (the TGI omnibus)
  • Got some people to take part in an online community to discuss the tournament
  • Asked these people to submit videos and pictures of them during/after the game (I think 7 people did this, I’m not sure if the community was larger)
  • Sent a WAP survey at half time to a larger sample. 207 responded, 90% of these during the half time interval

Neil Jessop closed the day with a few remarks, including a prediction that there would be more mobile surveys than online surveys. This was the one contentious comment of the day (in my opinion), and this sums up my overall feelings of the event. There were a few interesting asides and thoughts, but there was nothing at the event that really made me stop and think. A shame, but perhaps I was expecting too much.

sk

Image credit: Research-Live