The Weekly Round-Up: Gamification, smartphone evolution and platform wars

We mix work and play, adapt our fingers to touchscreen tech and place bets on the next big mobile platform...
Written by The Round-Up, Contributor on

We mix work and play, adapt our fingers to touchscreen tech and place bets on the next big mobile platform...

Work needn't be a chore. It needn't be a relentless conveyor belt of drudgery. It needn't be about jostling to keep up with the rat race. Work could be, whisper it, fun.

All you need to do is apply the principles of gamification and you could watch productivity and morale leap in this age of austerity and pay freezes.

According to the exponents of gamification, there's a lot of crossover between online games of swords and sorcery and the world of work, although you're unlikely to share your workplace with hoards of shrieking goblins - unless you happen to be a network support technician in a primary school.

In simple terms, gamification is the use of mechanics found in games to influence behaviour in everyday life. It is rapidly gaining traction in the work arena as a way of attracting customers or motivating staff.

The idea is simple: turn work into as much fun as liberating a dragon's hoard of treasure or waging a one-man war on alien invaders with an arsenal of laser weapons. That is, assuming your standard day's work doesn't already involve doing these things. And if it does, stop moaning.

This week, silicon.com spoke to Aaron Dignan, author of Game Frame, on what games can do for enterprise.

"The idea that I would work in the same job for a year or two or three without really a clear sense of exactly where I stand or exactly how far I've progressed towards my next promotion or my next raise is a little bit untenable," he said, leading the Round-Up to suspect he is ill-equipped for a job in Her Majesty's modern civil service.

Gamification is about taking the regular cycle of rewards and other mechanics that make video games so compelling and building them into everyday tasks or problems that need solving.

So much for the theory - what about the practice? Web 2.0 companies like Facebook, Foursquare, Google and Twitter are already putting game mechanics to work for them inside and outside their businesses.

Dignan admits the business world may not be fully ready for gamification but the time will come when the management board may be home to a chief experience officer – a sort of corporate Dungeon Master.

"Experiences are the things that make up our everyday life - whether we're at work or on the road or at home - and I think this notion of a true experience designer is something that's going to expand over the next 10 years," he said.

Dignan cites an example of a design company that issued its staff with time tokens for meetings and gave a set amount to its project managers each week for 'buying' time from other employees.

Each employee was also furnished with a single token that could end an unproductive meeting on the spot.

This game-style system turned a bloated office staple - the meeting - into a game of time management based on careful use of a scarce resource. It is like Dungeons and Dragons but with real project managers and business personnel.

"Turn north and go through the door.

"Your project manager wants you to read his highlight report urgently.

"Turn south and head through the door.

"A man from accounts wants to discuss your expenses claim. Use your cloak of hiding to escape.

"Head north again. There is a man lying on the ground, it is your project manager. He is dead.

"Your project manager died because you didn't read his highlight report.

"Buy another project manager for 50 gold pieces?"

Of course, another way for bosses to make work fun would be, err, to pay everyone more. But as that's probably a non-starter, expect gamification to be coming to a workplace near you very soon.

Digits evolve for digital tech

Also today: scientists claim the shape of the human finger is changing as generations of computer use start to have an impact on the human genome.

It seems that research shows these changes have accelerated over recent years with the increased use of touchscreen phones and tablets.

"Because humans have now been using digital technology for a number of generations, it is possible to see the evolutionary trends emerging," Professor Urehavin Alaff at the University of Poisson D'Avril, in northern France, told silicon.com.

Pointier fingers that make it easier to use touchscreen devices are the most obvious evolutionary shift the researchers have spotted so far, as human bodies evolve to use technology better.

The professor said some smartphone users have evolved fingers so thin and pointed they resemble "fleshy pipe-cleaners" compared to the fat, sausage-like fingers of the general population. "As a result, they can blast out a self-promoting tweet in three seconds flat," he said.

As today's story points out: "It's strange because in prehistoric times, the sorts of abilities needed to bring down a woolly mammoth were the ones that got passed on.

"Now it's the ability to text 'LOL' and 'ROFL' as quickly as possible on a keyboard the size of an ant's toenail, or tweet inanities about celebrities to your celebrity-obsessed friends. Basically, we should be surprised there's a human race left to evolve at all," Alaff added.

Check out the full story for more evolutionary wonders. You'd be, ahem, a fool not to.

Race of champions

If you've seen the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire you'll remember the scene where Scottish athlete Eric Liddell is pushed over during a 400m race, gets up and promptly overtakes everyone to win. Amazing but true.

It's an inspiring scene that makes you think if he'd only run that fast without falling over in other races then world records would have tumbled every week.

The only reason the Round-Up mentions this is because of a story it read on the site this week about Nokia and Microsoft catching up with the leaders of the smartphone race by about 2015.

That's the prediction of analysts at IDC, who see the WP7-powered Nokia platform passing everyone else at a canter and bearing down on leader Android within three years.

The Round-Up reckons it might take the metaphorical equivalent of Eric Liddell on a rocket-powered motorcycle with a favourable tailwind – but let's just wait and see...

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