We’re speaking at UA Europe 2011

We’ve been invited to speak at UA Europe 2011, which is being held in Brighton on 16th-17th June. Ellis Pratt will be speaking on:  You win! Getting users to RTFM using techniques from games.

It’s claimed that games are a powerful way of affecting user behaviour, so can we apply game theory to the provision of User Assistance and increase its uptake?

In this presentation, we’ll look at games such as Frequent Flyer Programmes, Google AdWords, as well as more recognisable games software. We’ll look at what makes makes some successful and others failures.

We’ll also look at how organisations are today applying game techniques to Web sites, Help files and support communities, in order to drive a positive response, participation and engagement from their users.

We hope to see you there.

The gamification of assistance (aka How to boast about your Help)

Gamification is the integration of game dynamics into any medium such as a Web site, Help file or community, in order to drive a positive response, participation and engagement from a target audience. It’s used by lots of organisations: airlines via Frequent Flyer Programmes, Google via AdWords, as well as more recognisable games software, such as Farmville.

It’s claimed that games are a powerful way of affecting user behaviour, so could game theory be applied to the provision of online Help to increase its uptake?

In The Role of Status Seeking in Online Communities: Giving the Gift of Experience, Joseph Lampel and Ajay Bhalla discovered that status was a key motivator in online communities and games. Users are motivated to be awarded “badges”, such as “Premier Executive Club” membership with an airline. So could we award badges to motivate users to use the Help? If so, what actions would we want to encourage, and how would we track and measure these actions?

There might be a badge for users who:

  • have read the relevant Help page, before they contact Support regarding an issue (gaining the entitlement to make the call)
  • have read a number of pages of the Help (though this might imply the software is hard to use or the user is stupid!)
  • have assisted someone else who had a problem
  • have used the software in an advanced way.

Reading the Help could be a badge of honour. Indeed, there could even be points indicating how many people have been reading the online Help in a particular week (so the organisation can boast about the usefulness of your Help). There could also be “badges” for the Subject Matter Experts who share their knowledge to the Technical Author (or share their knowledge on the company intranet).

Such a system requires the ability to track user behaviour – whether they have read a particular Help page, for example. This suggests it’s more likely to be implemented where the Help is delivered via software such as Mindtouch, where user activity can be tracked and their input can be rated by other users.

There are challenges with this concept – defining the right behaviours you want to encourage, keeping people engaged in the activity, avoiding people being able to bend the rules, for example. There’s also a lot of overlap with Training and Support. However, gamification is appearing in many different places, so why not in User Assistance as well?

User Assistance: Prevention or cure?

In 2011, will we see a trend towards preventing users getting stuck, rather than curing them after they’ve got stuck?

User Interface design is preventative. Support is curative. User documentation is, in most cases, curative.

With new technologies for assisting users emerging, Technical Authors may have the opportunity to provide assistance before users get stuck. However, would they and their organisation be comfortable with this change? It is said that, in medicine, it’s more difficult to get funding for preventative measures than for curative medicines, even though the former can be significantly cheaper. Will this also be the case with User Assistance?

One way to tell if an organisation would be receptive to this idea is to assess the value it places on usability, compared to supporting users. Once again, it’s important to develop meaningful measures for the value and effect of Users Assistance. If it can be shown that greater value and significant savings can be made, by using this approach, then any decision may become more straightforward.