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Some great insights hobbled by terrible execution.
on 14 May 2013
I love the concept of creating content that is easy to talk about and Berger breaks it down into 6 factors that contribute to creating really sharable content. These ideas are really well explained and make intuitive sense, so after the intro I couldn't wait to get into the meat of what makes these points tick and how they can be used.
Berger is passionate about having testable scientific rigour to underlie his points. This was another great hook for me - things should be proven, repeatable and solid. Sadly this is where the book falls flat - because his examples are often naive or just poor science that fails to deliver on his premise.
For example, he mentions an experiment to support the idea that people like to talk about themselves (I think we can all agree that people love to talk without the need for an experiment to prove it, but hey ho). The unforgivable sin is that he chooses an experiment that doesn't show that. The test asks people to take a paid survey and at some point they are given a few minutes of boring downtime. They can choose to wait it out, or they can choose to take less money for the survey but be allowed to talk about themselves during that downtime instead. The paper's authors claim that because their participants will sacrifice money to talk, it means that we find talking about ourselves so beguiling that we'll give up money to do it. All it really proves is that people will pay to avoid boredom. To back that up, many free to play videogames base their entire income on forcing people to wait or pay money to skip the wait. People find that BOREDOM abhorrent enough that they will pay to avoid it - making the game company millions of dollars. So this experiment doesn't back up his point, instead it makes you think he's trying to obsfucate the truth using SCIENCE. The book and his points are worse off for it.
A few pages later Berger says things should be gamified with badges because people like to have a symbol that proves they have accomplished something - and then they share it. That's fine if it's a national medal or a Nobel prize, but digital badges passed beyond saturation point years ago. My friends' Facebook walls are clogged with foursquare and candy crush badges (and whatever else the latest games are posting on their behalf). Rather than wanting to share badges and pass them on, we're becoming hyper-aware of not spamming our friends with crap - because we know how irritating they are when they clog up our social feeds. This in itself falls foul of one of his own points - people share things that other people will think is cool to give them social capital. This point is awesome and really rings true, but it directly contradicts people's real behaviour when it comes to badges.
The book is chock so full of these contradictions and shlock science that all the good stuff gets lost.