Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Jive Teams With Bunchball and Forces Us to Learn the Word “Gamification”

When you really get down to it, when we’re at work, we’re really just a bunch of school kids. When I was in first grade, my teacher Mrs. Dorwort would draw stars and happy faces on a paper that was largely correct. I preferred stars myself, and once volunteered to show her how to draw a double star, which I thought she should adopt for papers that were perfect. She didn’t take me up on that.

There’s a whole new thing that’s making its way into social enterprise applications that’s basically a takeoff on our deep-seated need to be praised and rewarded and recognized even in small ways, for what we do, what we know, or something else special about us.

Foursquare, the location-based social network, tapped into this with its badge-based system that makes going places and checking in a bit of a game. Go enough places, and every so often you unlock a “badge” that you can show off to your friends. Nobody really pays attention to who has what badge, but when you get one, you know, and it’s a little bit of fun.

In the context of a workplace social and collaboration environment, the person in sales to land the most new clients might get to display a “go-getter” badge in their profile. In accounting, those who can solve the most tricky problems might get a “Spreadsheet Ninja” badge. You get the idea.

It’s called “gamification,” and to me, it seems like a feature that social enterprise software outfits should be building themselves. And yet there are companies who are building gamification platforms that can be adopted as an add-on option for social enterprise software.

Today, the newly public social enterprise company Jive said that it is adding gamification features to its products, and is partnering with a company called Bunchball to do it.

Believe it or not, Gartner has actually studied this trend, and said it expects 70 percent of companies of any reasonable size to gamify at least one application within the next two years. The thinking behind it is that if you reward employees with badges they can display in the social application that everyone uses at the office — and let’s face it, they are basically just like Facebook, but for the office — you’ll take things like on-the-job training sessions and performance metrics, even your own health, a little more seriously.

It also adds another layer of engagement to the application itself. There are lots of stories of offices who adopt social enterprise software, but don’t get buy-in from employees or certain departments who resist. Add badges and a little bit of a competitive edge, and people are more likely to get involved and stay involved.

So, who’s Bunchball? A gamification start-up that, according to Crunchbase, has raised $17 million from investors including Triangle Peak Partners, Northport Investments, Correlation Ventures and Granite Ventures. And its customers include Warner Bros., Comcast, NBC Universal, and Disney’s ABC Television. Yes, this is a real thing.

Real enough that there is more than one company in the space. Another I’ve encountered is Badgeville, which is based in Menlo Park, and which last year landed a $12 million series B round of funding led by Norwest Venture Partners, with El Dorado Ventures, Trinity Ventures and the Webb Investment Network all participating. Its customers include Samsung, CA and Deloitte.

And started adding gamification features to its Rypple performance-management application. If you do a good job on something, you get some thanks from the boss that you can show off to your colleagues.

Personally, I don’t quite get the attraction. And it just seems to me that these gamification companies are creating something that should be nothing more than a feature inside a bigger social platform. As such, these outfits building gamification platforms are probably takeover targets one or two years down the road. But that assumes that the trend takes hold as Gartner predicts it will.

But then again, we live in an age where the millennial generation — those born after 1980 — is entering the work force, and it’s the largest generation in American history. These are the twentysomethings who grew up with parents reflexively saying “good job” to their kids every few minutes, and so expect to be praised a lot on the job — which comes as a bit of a shock to their bosses from prior generations, who expected nothing of the kind. As those managers look for ways to adapt to keep their younger workforce happy, you can — like it or not — expect to see more of this sort of thing.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik