Tag Archives: Technology

The ‘game mechanics’ misnomer: Why gamifying the news is so challenging

Chris O’Brien of the San Jose Mercury News has launched NewsTopiaville, an interesting project that will “explore how game mechanics can be applied to reinvent the way we produce, consume and interact with news.” The project is ambitious, interesting, and worthwhile.

But I want to clarify something about the term “game mechanics,” which I think is being misused — or at least oversimplified — in the gamification discussion. Without understanding the term’s fuller context, there’s a risk of masking the challenges of gamifying the news.

In the gamification discussion, “game mechanics” typically refers to (in O’Brien’s words) “features like leaderboards, progress bars, rewards, badges, and virtual goods.”

These are indeed game mechanics; I would categorize them as “motivational” or “psychological” mechanics.* (UPDATE: See footnote for another definition.) They can be a big part of what makes people keep playing a video game — what makes us want to play for just five more minutes (which inevitably turns into two hours) to reach the next goal.

But motivational mechanics are not the only kind of game mechanics.

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Data journalism needs to be more than external data sets

Paul Bradshaw has a good column at Poynter about how the increasing availability of data will force journalists and news organizations to change:

Data journalism takes in a huge range of disciplines, from Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) and programming, to visualisation and statistics. If you are a journalist with a strength in one of those areas, you are currently exceptional. This cannot last for long: The industry will have to skill up, or it will have nothing left to sell. …

So on a commercial level, if nothing else, publishing will need to establish where the value lies in this new environment, and where new efficiencies can make journalism viable. Data journalism is one of those areas.

Journalists should read and heed everything Bradshaw writes. But it’s important to make sure the discussion of data doesn’t get too narrowly confined to external data, without considering how journalism itself fits holistically into the data-centric future.

The big challenge for news organizations isn’t just how to better ingest, analyze, and present extant external (if sometimes hard-to-access) data sets. Inculcating a new skill set industrywide may be non-trivial as a matter of scale and institutional-cultural inertia, but at least that skill set is pretty well defined.

Rather, the trickier and less-addressed challenge for news organizations is how to turn the raw materials and finished products of non-database journalism into data.

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Why Sony’s iTunes competitor will fail – and how they could (but won’t) make it work

Back when the Playstation 3 was in the works, I wrote a lot about Sony’s misguided strategy for the console. My doomsday scenarios haven’t come true, but the company is definitely struggling — losses are projected at $674 million this year after $2.6 billion in losses last year, according to BusinessWeek. (“The two worst-performing products: TVs and video games.”)

So it’s great to see Sony has more dynamite ideas up its corporate sleeve. Like building an iTunes-like service. Because everyone knows consumers are looking for yet another site where they can pay to download movies/shows, music, and books!

Surely Sony has some secret sauce that’ll make this service stand out from the zillions of other similar services, both living and dead. Take it away, BusinessWeek:

Sony will try to differentiate its service from iTunes. One example: Users will be able to upload videos shot on camcorders, save photos taken with digital cameras, and post other digital content to their personal online accounts. … At some point down the road, Sony would consider letting independent software developers create applications for the service, much the way Apple does for its iPhone.

[Slaps forehead as crickets chirp.]

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The implications of an all-online entertainment future

Great post by Kevin Kelly on why the future of entertainment (and more!) will involve renting rather than owning, but having access to anything at any time.

This is key: “The chief holdup to full-scale conversion from ownership to omni-access is the issue of modification and control. In traditional property regimes only owners have the right to modify or control the use of the property. The right of modification is not transferred in rental, leasing, or licensing agreements.”

We have yet to deal with the legal (and cultural) ramifications of an entertainment world where everything is pure information rather than a physical object, and where you pay to access the information but not to own it. Those ramifications deserve an article or book of their own.

A Web history: Street Fighter II cheats and unheeded warnings

The Internet is such a ubiquitous and necessary (for us addicts, at least) part of life in the late 2000-aughts that it’s strange and time-warpy to think of how recent that ubiquity really is. Vanity Fair has compiled a fun oral history of the Net that serves as one of those occasional reminders of the absurd pace of change over the past 15 years. (The oral history covers the Internet’s 50-year history, but the best parts are about the World Wide Web era.)

I first became aware of the post-CompuServe Internet when my brother was in college, circa 1992. I was so excited that he somehow had access to all the important information I couldn’t find anywhere else: namely, the special moves for Street Fighter II. I think Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam secrets were also big on my list of Net-procured info, but Street Fighter was the main treasure.

I remember my brother mentioning Archie and Veronica — two early search engines — and I had no idea what he was talking about, though I must have used one or both to find the video game tricks. Oddly enough, I don’t remember the first time I used a Web browser. In my memory, browsers just exist after a point.

Anyway, here are some interesting bits from the Vanity Fair piece…

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The problem with tech reviews

I’m a pretty compulsive comparison-shopper (that is, a compulsive comparer — I don’t actually buy very much, as seen by my 4-year-old Creative Zen). I’m also a wannabe tech geek. So I read a fair number of reviews of TVs, digital cameras, MP3 players, printers, etc. And I’d say a good three-quarters of them are infuriating — because they barely discuss the one or two key aspects of a product that normal consumers care about.

Take two recent reviews from PC Magazine and PC World. PC Mag gave four stars (out of five) and an Editor’s Choice award to the Westinghouse TX-52F480S 52-inch LCD. I still have an old 32-inch CRT set, so I’m always on the lookout for good flat-panel tellies to file away for when we’re ready to upgrade. But despite the rating, this review was absolutely no help in my mental TV search.

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Some thoughts on Twitter

I’ve been Twittering for almost two weeks now, and I’m really enjoying it. As a personal tool and blog-extender, Twitter is great. I don’t do much link-blogging here on Korr Values, and my blog posts tend to be longish and not-so-frequent. Twitter lets me link-blog and write short, frequent thoughts that I wouldn’t necessarily post here (though maybe I should).

But I have two big issues with Twitter so far, or more like one and a half maybe. One is a general criticism, and one is specific to journalism. The latter issue suggests that while the kind of information-delivery that Twitter represents will be increasingly important to newspapers and journalism, Twitter itself might not be the best way for newspapers to harness this new info-delivery mindset.

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