One accusation that has been leveled at social media and those who invest in it is that it won’t help us solve the tough problems because those require science (Steve Blank provides one example of this view and at least somewhat ironically so does Founders Fund). I wholeheartedly agree that we need more science but I believe we will get there in a peer produced and funded model that will be quite different from what we have today. Research networks such as Research Gate, Academia.edu and Mendelay are putting scientists directly in touch with each other. And emerging funding sites such as Petridish and Microryza point the way to how a much more diverse portfolio of research will get funded than through the existing sources. These efforts are small today compared to traditional science publishing and the research grant machinery but so was Kickstarter just a relatively short time ago. These emerging systems are a type of specialized social media and their spread and growth will be enabled by the more genera social media such as Twitter and Facebook. I am convinced that given enough time these will dwarf traditional venture capital as a funding source for science.
There has been a lot of online commentary on the social media rules imposed by the WSJ. For instance, Fred wrote how some of the rules conflict with what makes for effective online engagement. He got an interesting comment from Peter Kafka arguing that the rules amounted little more than a “think before you write - in any medium” — but then Peter added that “[this is] one of the reasons I enjoy being a contractor.” That is where I believe the bigger story sits. Social media is creating a new balance of power between individuals and firms.
Historically, most individual contributions occurred in meetings, phone calls, emails, internal documents, etc. all of which used to be either ephemeral or had a strong presumption of privacy. As a result, reputation and audience attached at the corporate level much more than at the individual level. Now we are entering an era in which individuals are establishing their own audience and reputation online independent of their employer. At the same time the previously hidden activities are increasingly leaving an external trail that connects up to the individual.
This is a kind of “piercing of the corporate veil" — not in the technical legal sense, but in the sense that individuals are now becoming increasingly visible. Some companies will try to control this and fight it all the way. But in the long term it seems to me that the more successful strategy will be to not only accept this blurring of lines, but leverage it. This will be hard to do for many existing companies because it requires employee motivation to be based on "soft" factors, such as culture, rather than "hard" monetary factors. Creating a clear understanding and alignment of goals and values will allow companies to rely on employees’ judgement and actually empower their online presence rather than trying to regulate it.
Yesterday, Techcrunch announced that Mint was adding gameplay to its service in the form of a financial fitness score. The Techcrunch post already pointed to Foursquare as a service that is making very effective use of gameplay to motivate activity and engagement in the system. I have also found this to be true for TheSixtyOne, which awards points for many different kinds of behavior. I believe we will see many more sites adding gameplay components going forward, much like sites added social features over the last few years.
There are now several generations of users who have grown up with video games (and it is certainly true for all coming generations). Elements such as points, quests, leader boards, challenges will seem completely natural to them and provide a higher level of engagement. In fact, Katie Salen who co-authored Rules of Play, a book about game design, is starting a High School in New York where the curriculum and instruction will be organized around quests and other gameplay concepts.
Much as was the case with adding social elements, the more successful implementations will be the ones that design the gameplay deeply into the service instead of just “bolting it on.” For instance, TheSixtyOne is building its service with gameplay as an essential component from day one. Someone else, like say Amiestreet, has added a rewards system to an existing service but it’s not all that playful (also uses real money) and relates only to a single behavior (recommending a song).