SXSW 2010: I’m in!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I learned a couple of weeks ago that my talk, Add Some XBOX To Your UX, has been accepted for SXSW 2010. I know a lot of people speak at SXSW (2010 will have, like, 220 panels), but I’m pretty excited. It’ll be the first lengthy solo presentation I’ve given since graduate school and, well, it’s just nice to have an excuse to cogitate and do some deeper research on a particular subject. It really does feel like a thesis project, though. In a very good way.

I haven’t settled on any specifics, of course, but the main thrust of the talk will be about how features that one might commonly associate with games — “game-like mechanics,” I tend to call them — can be applied to non-game social software to enhance the user experience and to guide users towards particular outcomes. And despite the “UX” in the title, the talk won’t be geared specifically towards people with “user experience designer” on their business cards — it should appeal to anyone interested in new ways of thinking about how we do things together online.

The talk will build on the idea that so much of what we do together online is done for fun. Services like Twitter and Facebook can pat themselves on the back about the importance of what they do — allowing people to organize in new ways, find old friends, take political action, and such — but the core of the most well-used social media sites today is all about, I feel, people using their services to have fun. Sharing information (photos, videos, bars I go to, etc.) with friends is fun. And Twitter would not have had the impact it had on the Iranian election if millions of people like me had not signed up in the first place because it looked like a fun way to chat with a circle of friends. So what can we learn if we look at Twitter (for example) through that “fun” lens? Can we think about what that piece of “fun” is and how we might use game design strategies to amplify it?

Another starting point will be the subject of sites that use game mechanics to achieve very particular non-game goals which would be otherwise difficult/impossible. Google Image Labeller is a good (though not very new) example of this sort of thing. Opening ourselves up to games can give us a whole new box of tools to use when designing user experiences to achieve a certain goal. The concepts of friending people and rating things with stars or thumbs up/down and leaving comments and such are reasonably well understood and used all over the place. What other ways can people interact socially online? What other effects can we achieve?

These are fairly hefty subjects and I’m talking about them rather clumsily here. I’m definitely still refining my ideas. But I’ve been reading books, doing research, and having conversations about it — and expect to continue up until the day of the talk. Really, this is the most fun of the whole thing. Although the talk itself is a great opportunity, of course, and I look forward to kicking ass.