I've been thinking about the badges that a few social sites are using as incentives to their user communities - specifically foursquare and, more recently, Blip. So many people I talk to are looking for ways to encourage adoption of their enterprise intranets, knowledge bases, and collaborative workspaces. Plugging in a suite of profile badges, easily customized for each organization's desired behaviors, would be a fun, low-overhead way to achieve that.
To be clear - I'm not talking about the icons, often referred to as badges, that are placed on a web page to link to social media services. I mean the icons that you earn for different behaviors and activities when you're a member of the site.
Examples of Foursquare's badges:
I'm most familiar with Blip's badges, and the way they work maps really well to an enterprise portal (I'm thinking SharePoint). Basically, in the Blip scenario:
- You earn badges automatically for behaviors on the site, such as blipping a certain number of songs, or earning a certain number of props (i.e. positive ratings)
- Each badge has several levels, so that once you earn it there is incentive to continue the behavior and reach the next level.
- Every time you earn a new badge or level, it's posted on your profile, and you receive an email notification, with links to publish the good news to your status on the more popular social networking sites.
On a SharePoint intranet, there are plenty of trackable activities for which badges could be earned automatically. For example, you could earn them for a specified number of:
- Documents, images, slides or other files contributed
- Wiki pages created or edited
- Slides re-used
- Announcements entered or news pages created
- Discussion threads started / responded
- Ratings given (SP 2010)
- Comments added
- Profile fields filled out / edited
- Tasks completed
It would be important to be able to configure the levels and the names for each badge. So for an organization where knowledge management is the focus, you'd be able to name a badge something inspirational, like "Knowledge Hero," and then key it off the number of documents contributed to a repository. For an organization that values keeping the company up to date on internal news and activities, a "Level One Newsmaker" could earn that cred by entering an announcment every day for five days in a row.
It might also be good to have a few administrator-controlled badges that companies could award manually for certain desired activities, such as "Employee of the Month."
Let me anticipate a few issues and concerns:
- What about quality? - employees will just post anything in order to earn their badge, filling up the system with documents or items of questionable value. It's true this would be possible, but if you've got a system that leverages ratings, tagging, and information management policies (i.e. expiration after a certain date), the highest-quality content will be surfaced and preserved, and you've still increased adoption.
- What about alert fatigue? - employees are already receiving too many emails; do we really want to send another one every time they earn a new badge or level? It would be a requirement that employees could subscribe/unsubscribe from these notifications at will, just as they can opt in or out from other alerts in the system. But my own experience with this kind of email ("You've just earned a new badge!") is that it's a little good-news pick-me-up, often unexpected, that motivates me to continue the behavior.
- What does it cost? - we want to encourage adoption, but we don't have any budget for it. If this profile plug-in were developed by a third-party vendor, it would need to be offered at a price point that corporations can swallow for a "fun" add-on - like in the under-$500 range. But if the social networking sites can offer it for free, maybe this is possible?
Please drop me a comment if you know of other examples of merit badges in use, either on public social sites or in the enterprise! I'd also like to hear whether your organization would use this kind of gadget to drive adoption of your intranet, and what the concerns would be.
p.s. if you're as nauseated as I am by my use of the word "incentivize" in the title of this post, did you know that the word has been around since 1970? I would have thought it was 1990s jargon, but its Nixon-era provenance makes me respect it a little more than I had previously.
UPDATE 9/15/11 - NewsGator's product adds this capability to SharePoint 2010: