Edo the Reliable ("Amin")

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Accountability is No Game

In Social Networks on March 1, 2012 at 6:40 am

Alice's rabbitLeap, a new iPhone app, enables people to challenge each other to accomplish self-pledged projects – for example, a diet (see article on Cnet). The app challenges you to “compete with your friends and show the world you’re a winner”.

Comparing ourselves to friends resonates with us., just like it resonates with kittens and puppies, who naturally compete for available food and attention – even over the malnourished bodies of our siblings. No offense, but this is hardwired and often feels fun. But if the drive to compete is so natural, why do we need our iPhone to generate a peer arena to compete in? Why are not already feeling that we are already in that arena day in, day out?

Let us look at what drove, and still drives us to complete tasks such as “clean your room/inbox”.  We did and still respond to those tasks because they are demands made by senior members of our family or team. Such tasks carry a penalty if unattended. The core of “being social”‘s is not being nice or entertaining – it’s managing those social obligations. We were taught to be social by people we were accountable to. Often, those same people taught us that being nice and entertaining was the slacker’s strategy and won’t get us off the hook.

Adult tasks could be seen as an agreement, an obligation to someone. This is self-evident in tasks such as arriving punctually to a meeting. Haven’t we all felt at one time like the rabbit in Alice’s wonderland,  have we not muttered to ourselves as we hurried to a meeting, ‘Oh! The Duchess! Oh! won’t she be savage if I’ve kept her waiting!’. The rabbit didn’t need an iPhone app.

A task is created when we promise to bring the milk – an obligation so common it serves as the title of a to-do app, conveying the dread people feel about the consequences of violating even seemingly minor agreements with partner.

To illustrate my point, think about gamifying a challenge such as “I will remember everything I promised my spouse this week”. If we do, friends give us stars. Will this work? No, it would be threatening and would not add much to our motivation. But if, like 45% of US citizens  we do not have a spouse, Leap could help us create an artificial social penalty. Remember “Virtual Girlfriend” apps? Perhaps Leap could develop into a dark “Virtual Girlfriend”, perhaps “Virtual Nagging Girlfriend” (matched, of course , by Bitchin’ Boyfriend, the male version – though women are more social, and already have more social assets to lose than men, with or without any app).

Task management is inherently social and transactional in nature. Calendars could be viewed as an Accountability Management tool, ideally to be designed around people, their agreements and their obligations. I’m not talking about User Centered Design, but about Social Design, or Social Interaction Design. Designers could design for and around this complex human activity, we design calendars, email inboxes and calendars. We could design for concrete social interactions / stories, supporting meaningful social functions, instead of designing for some generic “collaboration”, a concept that belongs in corporate board meetings, not on the interaction designer’s desk.

I could go on and on, but I’m late! She’ll be savage.

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