An idea popped into my head this afternoon. Readers who are enthusiastic users of services like Foursquare or Untappd will get it immediately, but the rest of you might need some explanation first.
For some time now I’ve been writing about things skeptics can do online to advance the cause of skeptical outreach. Of course blogging and podcasting are obvious avenues, but lately I’ve focused on crowd-sourced projects such as editing Wikipedia skeptically or rating sites in Web of Trust.
I think these projects could have a broader appeal (and perhaps a broader effect) in part because they lend themselves to small, incremental investments of time and effort. Blogs and podcasts generally require a substantial commitment of time, something not all skeptics are able or willing to do. But making skeptical edits to Wikipedia (for example) can be done in very small slices that can easily fit into an otherwise busy schedule. You can spend as much or as little time on it as you see fit, and it all still counts.
But therein lies a problem. For their huge investment of time, bloggers and podcasters get ample recognition for their work. We all know their names, as they have thousands of readers or listeners.
But how do we provide some recognition or incentive for skeptics to devote little slices of their time to these crowdsourced projects? These tiny incremental efforts normally go unnoticed. Read on for my proposal.
Dragon*Con 2011 in Atlanta is next weekend. It is a gigantic convention for fans of science fiction, fantasy, comic books and other pop-culture topics. For several years now it has had a dedicated track of programming for skeptics called Skeptrack.
The purpose of this blog post is to be a clearinghouse for all things digital related to the meeting. The particular focus is on Skeptrack, but there are a bunch of resources and tips here that will be useful to any digitally connected attendee.
Just some of the info in this post that can save you time or money or both:
- Do you need internet access but are not bringing a laptop? I’ll tell you which hotel supplies computers you can use for free.
- Are you staying at the Marriott Marquis? I’ll tell you how to save at least $5 per day on WiFi charges.
- On a tight budget and desperately need some free WiFi near the con? I’ll tell you several places to go.
- Would you like to put the pocket program on your Kindle, Blackberry or other portable, but don’t know how? I’ll show you a site that can do it for you.
- Want to rent a 4G modem during the show? I’ll tell you how.
All that and much more, after the jump…
One of the hot new terms in the world of web-based services is gamification. This is when a web site is designed to add game-like features to the user experience. The idea is to take something that might be fairly tedious if it were just a simple utility, and make it fun. The form this takes varies widely from site to site, but often includes user-to-user competition scoreboards, achievement badges, unlocking of extra abilities through achievements, and so on.
Probably the most famous example is a site called Foursquare. This is a site that encourages its users to log where they are during the day. Sounds tedious, right? Why should I keep a rigorous diary of everywhere I go? But by allowing you to connect with your friends, get discounts at local businesses, and earn rewards such as badges, Foursquare turns the experience into a game.
Much of what skeptics do can be tedious or repetitive at times. We have to reiterate over and over the same evidence to new believers in several different of topic areas. We repeatedly have to debunk new versions of old scams. Many skeptics quite understandably grow weary of this and drop out of skepticism eventually. This is an ongoing problem.
And so I’ve been interested for some time in the idea of applying gamification to skepticism. There’s been an interesting development in this area. Read on…