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What social business platforms could learn from DrawSomething

Chances are you’ve heard of DrawSomething. You might even be a newly formed addict. If not, it’s a smartphone game based on a Pictionary type mechanic – you play with a friend (on seperate devices), and they have to guess what you’ve drawn. Simple.

DrawSomething is smart for a bunch of reasons; it has Facebook integration making it super simple to find friends to play with, it has a neat currency system that rewards ongoing play, and there are both free and paid versions. What I think is most impressive though, and the thing I want to explore in this post, is the asynchronous method of playing with others. 

For a while now the gaming industry has been on an unstoppable march, first overtaking music and more recently film in terms of revenue. Games like the Call of Duty series and World of Warcraft create massive amounts of money and ongoing fanbases, but have often been built around traditional online play; you sign in to the game, and play at the same time as your friends. What I think is interesting about DrawSomething, and a few other similar games before it (such as Words with Friends), is that the multiplayer experience is time-shifted. You make a move against a friend, and they might reply a minute, an hour or a month later. I heard people say they now use time when they’re stuck on a train or not able to sleep, to plough through a load of responses in one go.

This got me thinking about social business platforms such as Jive SBS, IBM Connections and others – these platforms are designed to make business inherently more social and therefore smarter and more dynamic. These platforms are also often designed to be real-time, to allow employees to collaborate, communicate and celebrate in a shared space, as stuff happens. If Jive SBS was a game, it would be a more traditional online multiplayer, with profiles, activity streams and shared lobbies and playzones. It wouldn’t be DrawSomething. 

DrawSomething is asynchronous, and it pains me to say that the most logical comparison to a work platform is email. We send emails, and those receiving them can wait a second or a year before opening them. Returning from a long period away from the office only to find hundreds of emails, is not dissimilar to leaving DrawSomething for a few days and letting the games pile up. And yet the latter is so much more fun. 

Many of us believe email is broken – it’s an electronic version of an age old format and is far too easily abused. So why does the asynchronous model behind DrawSomething invite legions of fans (not to mention substantial investment)? In short, because it’s fun, and emails normally are not fun – they’re reminders at best, unnecessary reply-to-all’s or spam at worst. But is there something more?

I think there’s something interesting in the way DrawSomething shows you not only the final drawing, but the working that went into it. It side-steps a feeling of competition by introducing a sense of human-crappiness. It’s near impossible to draw precisely with a clumsy finger and a relatively small screen, and so seeing the fumblings of your friend is heart-warming. Would you feel differently about receiving an email if you could see the humanness behind it? I know that typo’s or quirky sign-off’s often endear me to people, in the same way that overly polished language or grandiose email signatures turn me off.

This leads to the title of this post; what social business platforms could learn from DrawSomething. Well, here’s my two suggestions:

  1. Real-time is not always the best time – build in mechanisms that allow for different working patterns, and that don’t alienate those that aren’t always plugged in.
  2. Reveal the humans behind each interaction – wherever possible, reveal the process behind the final outcome, even when that final outcome is relatively minor.

So there you go, my two pence on the DrawSomething phenomenon. If you’re a fan and agree, disagree, or simply think Anna’s effort above is questionable, let me know in the comments.

 

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