Why do we do what we do on the web?

SXSW. Day two keynote. Seth Priebatsch’s The game layer on top of the world. Didn’t know what to expect.

Came out beaming, energised, in awe of what a room of 3000 people had achieved in one minute [this crazy card swapping experiment that highlighted the power of decentralised networks and people working together for a cause], and of the new layer that was going to sit on top of the web and make everything better.

Talked about it with everyone, came back home, talked about it some more, ardently defended it in a Twitter exchange just yesterday, and then tonight, after a day ruined by some areshat walking through the wrong door, I started reading up on gamification yet again. The doubt seeped in, and now I’m writing this.

Or maybe it started with that Twitter exchange yesterday, and Pon quoting Josh Williams, co-founder and CEO of Gowalla.

Badges are bullshit. Social validation is the primary driver of activity on the web.

I have been thinking about this over and over, nodding to myself in agreement. He’s right, you know.

Why am I writing this post? Why am I going to get Posterous to post this to Twitter? Why am I hoping someone retweets it or comments on it? I can’t completely quantify it, but I can sure as hell tell you it’s because I want to know that I’m being heard on some level. Is that social validation? Surely it is.

“The last decade was the decade of social — it took connections between friends, family, and coworkers and put them online. It’s called Facebook. The social layer traffics in connections.” Conversely, Priebatsch says that the Game layer traffics in influence — “It will influence where we go, what we do, and how we do it.”

I liked that last decade. That last decade enabled people to be heard, connections to be made, social validation to be had. The Game layer doesn’t feel personal. The Game layer deals in big ideas, and seems like a vehicle for businesses to influence how we behave.

Am I already so disillusioned by it that I’m taking it completely out of context? I just said yesterday that game dynamics, where relevant, applied on top of a social context makes complete sense, but as much as that’s true from the viewpoint of what Foursquare should do, today I’m thinking purely about what motivates us [or is it just me?].

Can you feel the doubt oozing out of me with every question mark that adorns this post?

I’ve gone completely off the rails, and this post will never end, and it’s probably a deeply psychological question on what motivates people, on and offline.

I’ve got a gazillion tabs open on motivations, but I can’t be bothered reading any of it, and I’ve actually been listening to this TED talk by Dan Pink on the surprising science of Motivation, and I like what I’m hearing.



As per the comment, I should clarify that for the most part, I looked at this from the point of view of content CREATION, but I still think it applies on some level to curation, and others reciprocating via “likes” or whatever.


4 thoughts on “Why do we do what we do on the web?

  1. Jordan Sim says:

    In an economy where influence is a key currency, it’s no wonder why social validation is the primary driver of activity on the web. We all want to be heard AND seen amongst the blur of social noise and connection. It literally is a game of sorts – a Where’s Wally on the Web.Let’s take Twitter for example. So many people today are still fixated on the number of followers they have. The number of followers, i.e. social connections (social layer) essentially represents their influence (game layer?).For me, there is a disturbing harmony between Williams’ and Priebatsch’s statements. One statement feeds the other in a circular manner. Until we break this cycle of social attention and validation, we will do what we do on the web and will continue to do so in the future. What will follow the game layer and what currency will it introduce?

  2. c0uP says:

    Now that we’re all psych students and can talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivations [!], I thought the difference was that social validation was more intrinsic, with the game layer, game dynamics, and rewards being more extrinsic, and offered by businesses?It was interesting listening to that talk by Dan Pink, where he spoke of rewards narrowing focus and stifling creativity.As for what will follow the game layer, if said layer is built, that is, I have no idea, but businesses and services would do well to better understand the science behind what motivates us all, so they can manipulate us better!

  3. Abs – excellent post! SV points: +1. On social validation: I agree that social validation is the primary driver of "activity" on the web. I guess this definition mainly refers to content creation activity. Personally, I spend less than 5% of my time online creating content. I spend most of my time online browsing and using services that I find valuable. On gamification: Games motivate people to complete ordinary tasks by providing simple incentives. It works well when it is subservient to a service which has greater utility beyond the game. What makes me return to a service: games (short term), utility (short and long term). What motivates me to create content: social validation.

  4. c0uP says:

    Yeh, you’re right. Even five minutes after I posted it, I thought that I should change the title to reflect that I was looking at it more from the content creation angle, but hopefully the point got across.You’ve kind of summed up the post, made sense of it and added a lot to it; maybe you *should* have written it!

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