What’s In A Number?

It seems my LinkedIn profile is one of the 5% most viewed in the world. Yours might be, too, since it seems an awful lot of people I know have been mentioning and tweeting this apparent honour – helpfully provided to us by LinkedIn itself.

What’s going on here? My first thought – since I only really use the service intermittently – was “Wow, LinkedIn must have a lot of junk accounts”. Then I clicked on the email they’d sent me – and it turns out the idea is to celebrate the service hitting 200 million members.

Woo hoo!

So their angle is that they want their established members to keep using it, to understand they’re an important part of LinkedIn, and to generally feel valued, perhaps valued enough to upgrade to LinkedIn Premium, where you can get all the details on those tasty views.

Behaviourally speaking, they’ve ticked a few boxes here. Continue reading

The Top Experiments of 2012

Last month we ran the “Advent Calendar of Experiments” – 24 things we in BrainJuicer Labs ran or helped run last year. Here’s the “Master List” of experiments so you can go back and check out the ones you missed.






Door No.24: Toy Story

Our Advent Calendar of Experiments comes to an end…

The Experiment: The final door on our Advent Calendar opens and behind it is – a pile of toys! But not just any toys. These are the toys identified by UK toy store Hamleys as the runners and riders in the race to become Britain’s top Christmas toy.

There’s tablet-for-kids the Leappad2. There are mighty brand team ups – Lego and the Lord of The Rings. There are old favourites making a nostalgic comeback – Cabbage Patch Kids and Subbuteo. There are newcomers – online catch-em-all sensation Moshi Monsters. There are beloved characters – Spider-Man and Barbie.  And there is the bizarre and distressing spectacle of Mickey Mouse dressed as a breakdancer.

You’d never guess he was 85.

We tested all these toys using our Predictive Markets method – harnessing the wisdom of crowds to pick a winner. Would we agree with the bookies? Would we predict the actual winners? Read on… Continue reading

Door No.7: Concept “Telephone”

The Experiment: Rating new concepts – and trying to improve them – is one of the basic jobs of research. But there are areas concept testing doesn’t usually tell us much about. Word of mouth, for instance. It’s common to ask whether or not someone might recommend a new product, but rather less common to find out what exactly they would be recommending.

What do we mean by that? Well, we know that people copy each other’s behaviour and pass on stories to one another. But we also know that people absorb and interpret information very differently. So in our online communities, we’ve been experimenting with a “concept game” which tries to get a read on how a new idea might spread by word of mouth.

An online community, yesterday.

The game is based on the old party game “Telephone” – where people whisper a message to each other and the message gets more garbled as the chain continues. In our game, we show people a concept and description briefly, then ask them to quickly describe it from memory, as if they were telling a friend. We then replace the original description with their description and show it to another person, who repeats the process.

So what did we find out? Continue reading

Door No.4: Community Games

Today’s entry in our Advent Calendar of Experiments.

The Experiment: Online communities are a terrific research tool, but a lot of the activity in them is very much based on direct questions and self-reported responses – with all the potential for post-rationalisation and inaccuracy that brings.

Luckily, going deeper into these answers is what great qual researchers are trained in. We wondered if it would also be possible to go wider, and develop tools intended to get at peoples’ ability to bear witness to each others’ behaviour, and the capacities of communities for interaction.


Can it replace the discussion guide?

To do this we developed some experimental task formats based on games we’d seen played in “wild” online communities and networks – places like Tumblr, Mumsnet and Digital Spy. We ran these “rad” tasks in a community, in parallel with another community where more “trad” tasks were being run. The rad tasks tried to get participants out of an introspective mode and into a more observing, social mode – moving from “me” to “we” research. How did they do? Continue reading

“Bow To The Almighty One”

This is a great video – people obeying the commands of a vending machine in order to get free snacks.

The stunt advert has become such a staple of the viral video world that one’s first reaction is probably “it’s staged”. But let’s assume it isn’t. What does it tell us about how people behave?

There are a few tacks you might take on this. One is that some people will do anything for snacks, or attention, or to get on camera (assuming they guessed it was being filmed by someone). This may well be true, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The next is what you might call the “gamification” angle – doing something boring (like pushing a button 500 times) can still be motivating if there’s a reward in it. Again, we know this works in many circumstances. The endless button pushing tasks are strangely reminiscent of Cow Clicker, the notorious ‘social game’ built by Ian Bogost as both satire on social games and successful example of one.

But take a look at what’s happening during the most pointless task – the 5000 clicks for a snack. It’s not the extrinsic or intrinsic reward that’s motivating the woman doing it. It might be a typical emotional reaction to sunk costs – to walk away after 2000 would feel like you’ve wasted the time it took, not gained back the time you would have spent on the other 3000. No, what’s happening is that the quest to press a button 5000 times becomes a social activity – it becomes fun because of the people urging you on, supporting you, laughing and cheering when you do it. Social reinforcement, not gamification or, er, idiotic desperation for snacks, is what’s at play here.

Assuming it’s real, of course. But even if it’s not, it’s an illuminating fiction.

Fit For Purpose?

You know Wii Fit, and all those other fitness games? The ones that were going to help a generation of sports-averse couch potato kids get healthy? They don’t work, according to a new study reported in the New York Times, which compared the fitness of kids who played the “exercise games” versus more traditional videogames.

The problem is twofold. First off, behavioural change is really tough to sustain: initial positive results wore off after several weeks. (Most games get boring after a while, and exercise games are no exception). Second, the kids who played the fitness games did indeed do a lot more exercise – while they were playing them. They made it up by cutting out exercise elsewhere. Which is another harsh lesson for people trying to change lifestyles – you have to keep an eye on what’s happening outside the test.

So does this mean, as web critic Evgeny Morozov said on Twitter, that “gamification is a fraud”? Well, gamification comes in many shapes and sizes. As a behavioural change tool for making and breaking habits, the apparent failure of exercise games comes as a blow. But there are plenty of researchers who swear by it as an engagement tool, and BrainJuicer have had great results using games as a way to make decision contexts in research more reflective of how people actually make decisions. The important difference? These uses don’t rely on repeated play.

There’s one other thing, too. In its rush to bury exercise games, the NYT wheeled on experts who said that such videogames were no substitute for getting outside and playing sports in the open air. But apart from being reassuring to a generation of baffled grandparents who never played videogames, how do outdoor sports overcome the behavioural hurdles the study identified? It wouldn’t be surprising to find that kids who don’t like them are even less likely to stick with them, and just as likely to slack off afterwards. If there’s one thing we know about behavioural change, it’s that common sense solutions tend to be just as flawed as shiny new ones.