Northside Festival: Music, Film, Art, Entrepreneurship

Yesterday was the first day of Brooklyn’s Northside Festival, which brings together music, film, art, and entrepreneurship. I went mainly for the entrepreneurship panels, and I learned a lot of technology and gamification.

I caught the tail end of the Algorithms! Doing Data Science on your website panel. Basically, you’ll want a good data scientist, and the UI (user interface) will go with the algorithm. They also touched on gamification. One of the best gaming elements to include on a site is a leaderboard. By having visible points, people get competitive. Status can still have a big effect on people, the panelists said. Other ways to gamify a site are to give preferred members first dibs on bids, add badges, and compare scores to peers. To figure out what’s best for your site, you want to first figure out what player or user behavior you want to encourage.

I also listened to Etsy and BirchBox’s CTO on S*#t That Seemed Like a Good Idea But I’d Never Do Again. Here’s some of the highlights of what they said:

  • have an easy way to get code on production (see in action)
  • have easy rollback (for mistakes)
  • respond to change (team size needs are different)
  • change every 2-3x
  • hiring is challenging
  • it’s hard to build a great culture, but easy to break
  • invest time in hiring (CTO of Etsy spends 50% of time hiring)
  • common failures include cascading failures (computers are very literal, so it can be reasonable at first, but then fans out across the world)
  • human error is the easiest conclusion to come to for failure, but not actionable
  • “future proofing makes sense a world where you can’t change things, but change is inevitable” (CTO, Etsy)
  • predictability is important, but so is creativity
  • know what you are optimizing for
  • don’t do classic professional software development
  • “Any kind of obsession with any kind of process is a bad thing”
  • work out how to have some level on insurance with how to allow creativity and individual expression
  • find product market fit FIRST
  • deal with scale when it happens
  • keep it simple for what your product needs to do
  • do regular events (exercise in office, picnics, mixers, brown bag lunches, lunch and learn, for culture, have blog writing about internal culture)
  • tell your story, when hiring (why you’re exciting and looking for people to join, so they can find you)
  • when starting, hire people from your social network
  • find people who are in a similar position as you (deeply invested and interested)
  • look for people who can grow with you
  • you can get a lot out of building small tools for yourself

One of the last panels I attended was called Gamification: The Gamification of Everything. Held at NYU-Poly, the audience was full of engineering students and faculty interested in hearing about gaming. Nick Fortugno, co-founder and COO of Playmatics, and Dan Porter,  GM of Zynga, were the speakers.

Nick started the conversation by comparing the gamification of everything to music. He said that the world has been musicified, meaning there is music everywhere, and that advertising has been musicified. But, music is designed differently for different purposes. This means that we think of songs on the radio differently from songs in an advertisement.

So is the gamification of everything possible?

Yes, Nick said. But there will be a large gap between that and an actual game. Games have certain experiences and aesthetics. Most games, for example, have a lack of stakes. “I don’t want my checking account to be a game,” he said.

He cited the HuffPo has a bad example of gamification, explaining that they basically added badges and threw some surface game elements on to the site. Good game design means creating certain games and feedback that are useful. Games teach us what motivates us, and uses structures of feedback and constraint to gage interaction, he said.

Ben approached the topic a little differently. He decided to make a game out of it. First he asked everyone in the room who was born in June to raise their hand. Then he picked three of those people and told them to each come up with one question to ask him and Nick. He compared the time it took them to think of the questions as the loading time of a game.

Once the questions were ready, Ben and Nick had to answer the questions in the least amount of words as possible. Whoever was more concise won (best two out of three games). They played odds and evens to see who went first. WordPress won’t let me embed the video, but you can watch part of the game here.

In the end, Nick and Ben each won a round, and then Ben ended the game, claiming it was more fun that way. He went on to explain that the lighter the game, the better, and that good games are playful and give people choices.

Some other takeaways about gamification:

  • It’s fun to get rewards for each step
  • You want to make people who are already on a site more committed (consider themselves users and be more engaged)
  • There are many implicit games
  • Phones are good for one-to-one communication (such as Words with Friends and Draw Something)

But lastly, and most importantly, games have to be fun.

“Fun is not a food additive that you just drop in to something,” Nick said. “It’s an ingredient that must be part of a recipe.”
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