Saturday, May 29, 2010

What we can learn from Nike’s Persuasive Technology

[This is an older post of mine that was on a now-retired community blog called] 

The cover story of the latest issue of WIRED Magazine is dedicated to the success of the Nike+ sensor system. Nike+ allows users to track and share the time, speed, and distance of their runs using an iPod or Nike+ wristband. I can personally attest to the motivational power of such feedback. I ran fairly regularly when I used it but when my wristband sensor died, I used its untimely death as an excuse to stop running. (I’m waiting for a free replacement of a next gen model. The WIRED article fails to mention the high failure rate of the first batch of the system’s technology.)

My friend who runs marathons doesn’t need a Nike+ system to help her keep track of her runs – shes uses a pen and paper. But I, like most people, find that just this extra bit of little work feels like a huge burden. Like Nike, libraries need to strive to create systems that feel as effortless as possible (just one example: writing down a 20 digit call number isn’t hard but it feels hard).

I think there are other things we can distill from the Nike+ experience. Its worth noting how rich an experience Nike+ is able to generate for its 1.2 million users with just three data points.  We should consider what information we could capture to help motivate our students. Privacy advocates tells us that no one likes to be watched but that’s not exactly the case. “The gist of the idea is that people change their behavior – often for the better – when they are being observed (which is why it’s sometimes called the observer effect).”

Visual feedback helps reinforce positive behaviour. From the above WIRED article, “a 2001 study in the American Journal of Health Behavior showed that personalized feedback increased the effectiveness of everything from smoking-cessation to interventions for problem drinkers to exercise programs.” The Prius dashboard encourages better driving for high fuel efficiency. Recently there’s been some folks creating library dashboards but they haven’t been developed yet to provide individual user feedback of their borrowing or reading habits.

Video game designers are masters at presenting user data and creating rewards for user behaviour and Jane McGonigal thinks we can use what they’ve learned to improve our happiness and our future in the real world. In her IGDA Education Keynote 2009, McGonigal makes a number of book recommendations including Persuasive Technology by B. J. Fogg (2003) in order to learn more about the ramifications of using computers to try to change user behaviour. I’ve got the book on my lap right now at a page in which Fogg describes a hypothetical library-related example of persuasive technology:
Because she’s serious about school, Pamela runs an application on her device called Study Buddy. Here’s what the application does: As Pamela begins her evening study session, she launches the Study Buddy system and views the display. Study Buddy congratulates her for studying for the third time that day, meeting the goal she set at the beginning of the academic quarter. The device suggests that Pamela start her study session with a five-minute review of her biology vocabulary words, then read two chapters assigned for tomorrow’s sociology lecture.

As Pamela reviews biology, the Study Buddy screen shows a cluster of shapes, which represents her classmates who are currently studying. This motivates her to continue studying.
Later that evening, as Pamela wraps up her work, she’s curious about her mentor, Jean so she turns to Study Buddy for information. Jean also subscribes to the Study Buddy system and has invited Pamela into her “awareness group” (1). Pamela sees a symbol on the display that indicates that Jean in currently in one of the campus libraries. Jean is a good role model; she’s a senior who was recently admitted to a top graduate school. Being a study mentor means that Jean has agreed to let Pamela remotely view Jean’s studying habits. Using Study Buddy, Jean can send simple sounds and tactile cues such as vibration patterns to Pamela to encourage her to study.

I should note that I haven’t actually read the rest of this book. I’m hoping by posting writing about it I’ll shame motivate myself to do so.

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