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11/6/2012
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Big Data And Gamification: Good Partners?

Gamification offers a practical way to take advantage of big data, Badgeville CEO says.

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Big Data Talent War: 7 Ways To Win
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What do big data and gaming have in common?

At first glance, not a lot. The former is a nebulous term referring to the collection and processing of large volumes of data arriving very quickly from multiple sources. The latter? Well, Call of Duty and Angry Birds come to mind.

Gamification, however, could change that perception. A tech industry buzzword that's less than two years old, gamification refers to the use of gaming techniques in non-game applications. The Gamification Wiki provides a few examples, such as work training games and simulations that reportedly are more effective than conventional training methods at enabling employees to learn new information.

[ Managing big data projects can be challenging. Here's how to stay in control. Read 7 Master Data Management Project Best Practices. ]

Badgeville is a Silicon Valley startup that sells gamification technology for measuring and influencing user behavior on web and mobile sites. According to company CEO Kris Duggan, gamification will play a vital role in big data's future.

In a phone interview with InformationWeek, Duggan called gamification a "very practical way" to take advantage of big data. But it's much more than that, he believes. "My personal belief is that gamification is the killer app of big data," Duggan said. "A lot of people are talking about big data -- collecting data and profiling users, all these kinds of things. But they don't really know what to do with that data, and they don't know how to make it actionable."

Marketers and business leaders use a mix of data to better understand their customers, employees, and other groups -- and for a variety of reasons. A retailer, for instance, might use customer data to study buying behaviors.

Gamification is well suited for these tasks, Duggan believes, because it makes it easier for a business to segment its audience. "We track all users and what they're doing," he explained. "This allows us to understand what behaviors users are performing, and what motivates their behaviors."

Badgeville's product is a platform-as-a-service. "We don't have an application. There is no Badgeville app, no mobile app, no Badgeville website for users," said Duggan. "We embed our ability to instrument and track behaviors inside any application. We also embed the ability to incentivize those actions, using a variety of different types of techniques."

Badgeville's game mechanics technology, for instance, borrows tools from social games to spur desired user behaviors. It can assign points for specific actions, recognize achievements, create user contests to unlock awards, and provide real-time notifications when users perform a desired activity. "Our company is recording very deep behavioral data on millions of players per month, and we're capturing billions of behaviors and actions on monthly basis," Duggan said.

Badgeville currently has only about 200 customers, but its client roster includes a number of major corporations, including Dell, EMC, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, NBC and Oracle. "For example, EMC uses gamification on their 250,000 community members," Duggan said. "They also track behaviors at their conferences, and in other applications they offer to their community members."

Gamification can help the healthcare industry as well, Duggan believes. "We're seeing huge demand in healthcare from people who want to use gamification to drive patient adherence to their prescriptions."

Badgeville is just two years old, and Duggan said one of the company's current challenges is simply explaining to potential customers what the term "gamification" means. "People think it's games, they don't realize it's about behavior and psychology," he said.

Big data will no doubt evolve regardless of whether the business world embraces gamification. But Duggan believes the two technologies go hand in hand. "There have been prior generations of technologies that have talked about analytics, insight and harnessing big data," Duggan said. "I think one big difference with gamification is that it's a closed-loop system, which means we measure behavior, and then we influence it."

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