The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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September 28, 2012

Farmville and Angry birds - could they have some useful takeaway for the enterprises?

Those who have played 'Farmville' and 'Angry Birds' know how much fun it is. 100+ million hours being spent globally every week on Farmville and Angry bird combined - 'fun' part is fairly evident. How would you feel if I say that there are hidden secrets of the people engagement techniques in these games? This is what I realized after thoroughly analyzing the mechanics behind these games.

I was so much intrigued by the addiction and 'pull' created by these games, I closely monitored the features, rules, options and engagement styles of these games. I tried to figure out forces that kept my interest sustained in this game, made me spend time on seemingly mundane acts in these games and ultimately made me happily do things that the game ownewrs wanted me to do on the platform. I explored these issues like a layman to understand the working principles of the people engagement in simple terms. Let me share my observations of the game dynamics of social games like Farmville and Angry birds. In some of these observations, I will also illustrate the examples from these game.

  1. Every time you engage, you gain something. Your persistence pays off. If you are on Farmville, simple activities like visiting other's farm, feeding animals, planting a crop, harvesting the crop etc. will give you experience point or cash. You just have to do it and you can start accumulating the necessary points that are essential for you to trade later on for a big rewards or assets.
  2. Gains are relatively easier to achieve simply through the activity that people can perform without extraordinary skill or knowledge requirements.
  3. There are differentiated gains - 'normal' and 'exceptional'. Those interested in higher gains  can opt for complex gaming challenges. For example in Angry Birds, you can always cross a level by using all your birds and just ensuring all the pigs are destroyed. But that is likely to give you just one star. However, to get 3 stars, you will need to ensure that you use your skills to utilize minimum number of birds and create maximum destruction. Having lot of 3 stars unlocks some special games or goodies.
  4. Performance of the intimate peer group creates the motivation. If you are a Farmville fan, you are highly likely to keep your eyes on how your friends are leveling up on the Farmville and what distinguished accomplished they have that you don't. And that pushes you to explore, do it more and improve your gaming profile.
  5. Visualization creates immersive environment that engages the mind in much more creative, forceful and captive manner. The graphics and the sound effects in both Farmville and Angry birds create enjoyable and engaging experience for the players. Visualization amplifies the experience and allows you to engage through sight and sound apart from locking you in the problem solving mission centric thinking.
  6. There is a 'tangible' gain in the 'give and take' model of the social collaboration / network enabled gaming eco-system. So when one gifts the goodies on Farmville, one most of the time end up receiving it also from others. That's why players happily send gifts to all their neighbor farmer players and expect the reciprocity to work like a charm and that indeed works. This becomes an important strategy to build the assets and levels in the game. In fact, many of these game have certain goodies/features that can only be unlocked or experienced through gifting. Can you imagine what a smart way of reinforcing the behavior of 'give and take'? Does it work so nicely in your organizations?
  7. You don't need to remember a lot. Intelligent and context driven suggestive mechanisms allow you to know where your attention is needed in the game either to resolve a problem or to complete a task. For example, every time a new feature is released in the Farmville, it makes you familiar with it through guided overlay of the instructions within the game without disrupting your gaming experience. You learn by actually doing it through guided instructions. Similarly, when you land up in your farm, different markers and indicators help you know what key actions are possible on the screen. So if you just need to follow the visual cues and common sense to figure out the game rules/features.
  8. You value your assets, reputation and 'power' in the game that drives your strategies, focus and attention
  9. There is frequently something new that provides differential experience on what already exists which allows to redo what has been done already but with a new experience. If you look at the Angry Birds game, ultimately it is just about throwing birds on a structural establishment using projectile trajectory. But we end up doing the same thing with different variety of structures, configuration and themes and get excited about it every time.
  10. Curiosity to discover the unknowns drives the exploration
  11. Contextual  variances increase the worth of the discovery depending on the individual's scenario, needs and nterests. Worth of discovery drives the sustainable life of the curiosity.
  12. Games allow the players to be that they can't be in real world or have the experience that they can't get in real world easily. It expands the world that exists in player's mind.
  13. Games allow the entire spectrum of the experience from bottom up creation to incremental improvisation. Some pople like to create, most like to modify and hence everyone has a way to experience the game they way they enjoy.
  14. Results of the game is as motivating as the 'activity' itself (experience). In the Angry Birds game, while getting scores and clearing the levels is important but we equally enjoy the act and fun of throwing the bird and destroying the structures.
  15. Games provide instant gratification as opposed to the real-life scenario where there is a lag between action and the outcome and feedback.
  16. Games involve 'experimental' and 'exploratory' learning (with some basic know-how and rules) progressive with the game plays as opposed to highly structured and methodical upfront learning
  17. Games that offer diverse possibilities based on player's imagination have higher sense  and depth of engagement as opposed to games where activities, possibilities and gains are all fixed. In Farmville, players have great deal of flexibility to exercise their creativity in organizing their farms and also in executing their farming strategy to accumulate greater experience and cash. While overall objectives of the farming in terms of leveling up and proficiency building could be same for all but each players can chose to achieve it through a different experience.
  18. Games that evolve their own social economy based on certain form of tradable virtual currencies tend to  offer much deeper, self-sustainable and immersive engagement. Again, Farmville is a classic example where virtual cash can be traded with the virtual goods like farming equipment, seeds, more farmland, animals etc. It can't get any deeper engagement now where people are paying real cash to buy virtual goods and virtual cash for the game. It is a different matter that such degree of addiction may or may not be desirable but if such deeper engagement can be created in the enterprise world for the business objectives, just imagine what wonders can be it do thought extreme productivity of the employees.
  19. Games that allow everyone to win their things, may be at different point in time, at different pace and in different ways are much more social, and collaborative
  20. Games allow people to experiment with and experience the possibilities. In real life, we typically don't have flexibility and viability of experimenting with various possibilities for our decision making. It may cost us too much or it may be a hugely time consuming thing or simply it could be too risky to experiment. However thought games, we can simulate the scenarios, try out what-if possibilities, unleash our imagination to develop new experiences. That's allows us to expand our thinking and our experiences which pulls us to experience it again and again.

Now, this analysis is strictly about how games like Farmville leverage human psychology to engage people and sustain their interest. Gamification is not just about game. Games are just one type of strategies for applying gamification, however in terms of the gamification strategies, the game psychology provides great foundation to create people engagement frameworks. It is also true that not all the behavior patterns that I shared from my observation can be practically useful or recommended for the serious context of the enterprise business. And hence there is a discretion involved in creating the gamification strategy.

So far so good. But how good is this really for the enterprise? My next blog with touch upon the key question - "Why should enterprises pay attention to Gamification".

September 27, 2012

Indoor Positioning - Ascertaining User Position

In the next few blog posts we will explore the challenges we are facing for building an Indoor Positioning System (IPS) and how are we planning to address them. If you have not already read the introduction post you can do so here

"How to find the position of a user with acceptable precision?" is the biggest problem that indoor positioning researchers are trying to solve today. Here are the reasons why it is such a big deal -. 


1.       1.   GPS doesn't work indoors

Due to signal attenuation inside buildings Global Positioning System (GPS) is not suitable for indoor positioning. In simpler words, there are too many obstacles for GPS signals to work, with precision, inside a building.

2.   Precision is critical

Imagine you register to receive an alert when you enter a specific building and you always receive alerts when you pass 100 meters away from the building! Such an Indoor Positioning System (IPS) would be a failure, to say the least. And using technologies such as cell tower results in high imprecision. While there is no documented acceptable precision number, ideal error margin should be less than 3 meters (This number may vary from a case-to-case basis).

3.   Using easily available and existing hardware

While there are multiple wireless technologies which can be used to determine a user's position inside a building, each with a different precision level, most of these technologies require the users to carry additional hardware. E.g. an idea implemented in a retail store required to install RFID tags on the carts that the users would carry. Beacons, which would be able to detect the movement of carts, were setup in the store. While this idea mitigated the need for end users to procure new hardware by installing it to the carts, it required them to pass through the beacons in a very narrow range. Otherwise the movement would not be recorded. Historically, it is known that, adoption of such technologies is very low owing to high investments expected from users and enterprises, and due to various technical constraints

 

The Solution:

A popular theoretically known solution is to use WiFi routers indoor and use method of Trilateration to find the user position. Let's examine this statement more closely:

theoretically known solution - theoretical because there is no known implementation of this method within our acceptable levels of precision under all circumstances

to use WiFi routers indoor - with the rising popularity of WiFi, almost every portable/mobile device has a receiver (and sometimes transmitter as well). This method proposes to use the WiFi routers installed inside buildings, such as malls, and receivers installed in the smartphones of the users to find the use's location

 use method of Trilateration - Trilateration is a methodology where we use a combination of models from physics and Mathematics to arrive at the actual position of the user. We may or may not translate this position to geographic co-ordinates (this is outside the scope of Trilateration).

 In further blog posts we will discuss this solution in more detail and understand how we are going to implement this as part of LBS. We will also discuss the models (from Physics and Mathematics) that we are using to achieve this.

September 26, 2012

Indoor Positioning - Opportunities and Challenges

Picture this:

You are in a Walmart store to buy a comforter. You are not sure where comforters are stocked. And if this store is like a typical Walmart then it's huge enough to not be able to search manually. Now how do you reach to your comforter with least hassle? Of course, you could seek directions from an employee of Walmart. Or Walmart could put up signs. However, these options are scalable only to an extent. During peak shopping periods, it is difficult to get hold of employees. And, possibly, a store can't put up signs for every product (or category) that it stocks.


What if you could pull out your smartphone, open the Walmart app, search for comforter aisle and hit "Get me there"! And presto! You get turn-by-turn directions on a map from where you are currently standing (inside the Walmart store) to where comforters are stocked! It doesn't matter if it's peak shopping period or if the store has large number of products, this solution will give you the best experience and will work always (well almost!). The store gets the benefit of reduced cost of assisting customers in these scenarios, and providing better shopping experience (the same mobile app can be extended to cover many other scenarios. E.g. with the user's consent it can monitor what the user is searching for. And can run analytics to create collective intelligence and reposition most searched or least searched products)

 

While the idea of this kind of navigation is prevalent in the "outdoor" world, there are numerous challenges for similar implementation in indoor. Here are some of the key ones:

  • Finding your current position - GPS does not work indoors; location from cell tower is very imprecise (it is typically off by at least 100 meters). So, how do we find your position with acceptable accuracy?
  •  Plotting the location of comforter on the map - in the "outdoor" world services such as Google Maps do this for us. Achieving this in indoor will require us to create full blown maps (possibly geographic) of the internal layouts of the stores (or any other enterprise)
  • Giving turn-by-turn directions - this extends from the previous challenge. Giving this kind of directions will require the system to understand the entire layout, from the aisles to walkways to restrooms and everything else. And this knowledge would be store (or enterprise) specific. A solution built for Walmart can't be deployed as-is for, say, Infosys. For the latter, a new layout needs to be built (probably requiring to understand cubicles, conference rooms and other details)

 

While there are challenges in implementing this kind of solution, solving this problem with "acceptable levels of accuracy" and converting it to an IP has humongous commercial potential; esp. owing to its implementation possibilities.

 

As part of Infosys Location Based Services (LBS) platform built in Infosys Labs, we are currently working on solving this problem and enrich our platform with indoor positioning as well. In further blog posts we shall elaborate, in more detail, technical challenges, design considerations, and respective solutions (where applicable).

September 25, 2012

Gamification - an opportunity to explore the untapped power of the people engagement

When you hear "Gamification", what do you imagine? A new promise, lot of possibilities, lot of excitement and definitely truckload of overwhelming explanations. My introduction to gamification accidently happened long time back. Who knew that someday in year 2012 when I will Google this term, it will bring as many as 10,700,000 search results in a flick of a second. And frankly, my unintended discovery was fairly informal, unbranded and  unscientific when I started on it. But as I got deeper into it, story took a very different turn.

I was working on the people engagement challenges for my innovation center in 2008. There, my struggle was with the average enthusiasm and typical motivation issues for the talent. I was locked up with the challenge of sustaining their engagement towards innovation objectives. Most engagement tactics were short-lived, good for one-time engagement spike but did not deliver good results for building and sustaining the continuous engagement. I was looking for something new, something beyond regular engagement practices like events, appreciations, corporate awards etc.

As part of this search, I went on the greener side of the grass to explore the examples that can give me hints for the untapped secrets of the people engagement. It was absolutely essential for me to understand and reengineer the rules of the game so that organization can influence the engagement significantly. It meant that I need to go beyond regular policy frameworks, R&R practices and other traditional instruments that were already in place. It also meant that I need to understand much of the hidden behavioral patterns that somehow govern the engagement patterns. This is when the ideas related to Gamification started trickling in.

When Farmville was introduced in 2009 by Zynga, it didn't seem to have anything extra-ordinary other than some good graphics around on-line virtual farming. I completely dismissed it thinking who will play such boring childish game where one has to  keep putting seeds, keep waiting for it to grow, then sell it, make money and all that mundane stuff. There was no great deal about it in my mind. But then popularity caught on and the number of online users hooked on to Farmville grew so dramatically that I had to really play and see what's so special about it. And when I started discovering the mechanics of this game, it was awesome. It actually influenced the social online behavior of the users in a particular fashion. It was a very different kind of game where more than the actual game, the social interactions and social exchanges were bigger driving forces. It was all about the community, all about growing the ranks, all about unlocking new exciting possibilities through the help of friends. In fact, on a slightly different note, I worked for a client in Germany way back in 2001 on a project that involved the development of the mobile gaming platform and it was built on precisely the same social concept. Surprised? That game was played as a "virtual life". Every player was given a clan of chicken and one has to timely feed them to keep them alive and healthy, then clan grows, you can exchange or sell the animals, and when eggs are laid, one has to 'digitally' take care of it till they hatch. And it goes on. It was all to be played on the mobile (and that too ordinary ones, not the smart phones). Now I realize how much ahead of the time it was and that's the reason it actually didn't do well in the market at that time. A decade later, we have Farmville built on precisely the same gaming techniques which has shaken up the online gaming space.

Study of the Farmville and many other social online games brought in interesting observations of user behavior. I also figured out how these games played with the motivation of the users. Many of these techniques were new and I have not seen them in the digital games of previous era. I will share some of those observations in my next blog.

This was a great discovery, though there was nothing fundamentally new if we dig into the social science or behavioral science. But it opened up new possibilities to experiment with the current engagement models. My experiments continued for a while and using the observations from those, we develop engagement influence model which I'm going to share little later in my blogs. In the next blog, let me share the game dynamics from the games like Farmville that provide insight into how users engage with a system through their lense of motivation.

PS: Would readers want my blogs to be Gamified? I'm very curious about that.

 

September 21, 2012

Privacy Controls in Location Based Services

"Tracking & Tracing" is the key aspect of delivering a location based service to the user. The immense potential of using geo-location to provide the value added services, gather business analytics, do market segmentation, etc. is causing flurry of LBS services being launched in the market. Along with all the value provided by LBS, there are lots of privacy concerns around its usage. The fact that user movements can be tracked by someone is raising lot of privacy concerns among the people in different segments. There are many regulations coming into place at the state level which requires special considerations to be given to the "Location" attribute of a person. In this blog, I will highlight some of the concerns raised by the segments, regulations that are in-place, possible solutions to address the concerns.

For better acceptability and establishing trust with the consumer of the services, privacy controls availability are the key to success of any location based services.

What is Location Privacy?

User's Static locations such as home address and/or work place are already known to the contacts or the service providers from whom they use different services such as Phone, Electricity, Cable, Banks, etc.

Sharing of Static location data is not a concern. Access to dynamic location i.e. ability to figure out where a user is at every given moment is what concerns and is subject to privacy controls and regulations. For e.g. User travelled from home to Airport and checked-in on the social website that he is at the Airport. In such a case the information is shared with the people as per user's wish and consent. What if someone is able to now trace what route he took to go from home to Airport?  It definitely raises the concern as the information can be used by unknown elements or it may be used by spammers to send the unwanted messages or it may be used by someone to estimate user's time away from home.

Location Privacy means the ability to control the information of a user current location to the extent of his/her discretion.

Why so much stress on Location Privacy now?

Is it not true that location is known to the bank, the moment user swipes the card?

Is it not true that location is known to the Transport Authority, the moment user passes through a toll gate?

Is it not true that location is known to Airline / Train services, the moment user boards the plane /train?

Answer to all these questions is "YES". Then what's the fuss about?

Well, in all these examples, location information is shared by user while doing a transaction and that too is not made public but shared with a very specific entity for a very specific purpose.

Many people are carrying a smartphone which has a GPS and/or GLONASS sensor in it, any application on such devices can easily track them. With all the intelligence built into the device by using their own location servers, apps on the devices can track the user location to a great deal of accuracy.

We are well aware of the fact that the Telco Provider could track down a subscriber using Cell Tower Triangulation. But it is the trust between the consumer and the mobile company that this information is not shared with anyone until the consent is given or in case of emergencies.

In the smartphone, there are all variations of app developers coming into existence who wants to provide the innovative experience to the consumer by using geo-location as a parameter. Can we trust them all or how do we know that the location is used only for a specific purpose. How do we ensure that the data captured on location aspects is not retained forever?

Since it is getting all over the place including a gaming site, social site, navigation site, and also some Marketers who want to push coupons, etc. it is a matter of concern.

How to control it?

Below are some of the important aspects to provide the controls à

1.       Regulations

In some countries, data privacy regulations have already defined the terms and conditions of the usage of location through the mobile devices. Interpretation of location privacy differs from country to country. For e.g. If the Person A hires car from a rental company XYZ then XYZ can enforce the rule that the GPS device should be taken along with car so that it can track its asset. In doing so, XYZ is inevitably tracking the Person A. In some countries, rights are with the company XYZ and in some places Person A is supported to decline the GPS device.

 

Below are some of the key regulations à

 

IETF GeoPriv à http://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/charter-ietf-geopriv/

W3C P3P à http://www.w3.org/P3P/

FIDIS in Europe à http://www.fidis.net/resources/deliverables/mobility-and-identity/int-d1110001/

 

2.       LBS Provider responsibility

 

Any app which is reading user location should always take consent from the user before using it.

It should also provide in written, the privacy policy with details of how the location data will be used, what will be retention policy of such data, will it be used by any third party, etc.

As of today, all the apps that are installed on the devices ask the user during installation process about the usage of location but not necessarily during the application usage. As a regular user, I may just install the app without giving much thought on it and fall victim to the misuse.

 

LBS Provider can also adapt innovative ways of dealing with location data as given below à

 

Relative Location aapture

For e.g. Friend Finder App in which the two friends are notified to each other when they are in the proximity of say 1 mile, such app need not store the actual location information at all but only relative information. By using the relative location information, user privacy is honored and also the value added service is provided.

                         Anonymous data capture

In some apps, only thing that the app may be interested in is the number of people at one location and do not need to know who are all the people at this location. In such cases only aggregated information should be stored  without violating the user privacy.

                        Time bound location data

Location data should be used and discarded immediately after use. One-time use policy can be applied on this data so that it is not retained. If it is needed for reporting purpose, maximum some one should be allowed is 6 months to retain the user location data.

3.       Consumer Awareness

 

As a regular user, I should understand the possible implications on sharing the location data. It is as much a responsibility of the consumer as it is of the LBS Provider. User should ensure that the location data sharing and retention policy is well understood and only after reading it, access should be given. Also user should have right to turn off the location feature anytime from the application.

 

Is it the End of Privacy?

                My answer is NO as I see the progress made in regulations, responsible LBS Providers and the maturity obtained by the consumers. Again privacy of data is as long as you control it so whether you see it as a different way, I leave it upto you and invite you for the discussion on this blog.

 

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