Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Museums Need Nike+: Tracking, Gaming, and Architecture of Participation

I often get asked what Web 2.0 means, and I usually use a form of Tim O'Reilly's four elements: content platform not provider, architecture of participation with network effects, perpetual beta, and modular design.

But those elements are pretty conceptual. How do they apply to creating a great 2.0 experience? There are other elements that often come up on this blog, like user-generated content or me-to-we design, that are more about implementation than theory. Today, we talk results. I'm talking about a product that uses the tools of tracking, gaming, and me-to-we design to give a fabulous experience: Nike+.

Nike+ is a combined iPod and shoe sensor product that allows users to track every step of their runs. This means you receive real-time audio data while running about your progress (updates each mile), and later, can review your run stats online. You can create goals for yourself (against which your progress is automatically tracked) and challenge others (anonymous or known) to run at your pace, complete a number of miles, etc. You can also create song lists for runs that give you a "power-up" when you most need it based on your run thus far.

Nike+ provides a brilliant trifecta of sticky experiences, combining tracking, game mechanics, and me-to-we design to support a product, an activity, a community, and ultimately, healthy lifestyles.
In many ways, it's the IDEAL inspiration for museums seeking to create a pervasive, sticky visitor experience that extends beyond the visit and is not totally screen-bound.

Let's take a closer look at how this all comes together.

First, Nike+ offers tracking. This is the most obvious feature of the product, and one that offers value on its own. As with the mileage displays inside hybrid vehicles, Nike+ users report that the experience of being tracked actually improves their performance. It's no coincidence that Nike+ provides both real-time and post-run statistics--you need both to adjust behavior real-time, and to motivate future improvement.

Second, Nike+ gives you a game. You get rewarded for running. As one enthusiast put it:
The second best part about the Nike+ running — the cool, video-game like part — is that you not only run, but you also get points for running. Your score ever-increases. Better still, if you set goals for yourself, you even get awesome virtual trophies and ribbons, resplendent in their vector beauty. Just like Pac-Man got to eat the occasional delicious (albeit high-sodium) pretzel treat in-between hundreds of dots, the Nike+ runner gets the occasional trophy treat in between the miles. As I understand it, a lot of people run for so-called "exercise", but let me tell you: points are way cooler.
These first two mechanics, tracking and gaming, make for an intoxicating individual experience. However, these two are most valuable while you are actually using the Nike+. When you stop running or looking at your stats on the web, the memories of trophies and goals slip away. Why run? It's not even a human encouraging you--just a stupid machine.

And this is where the third mechanic, the me-to-we design, comes in. I've written before about the 2.0 hierarchy of participation, where users move from having a "me" experience to a "we" experience through the useful networking of their individual bits. Consider how the Nike+ performs on the pyramid to the right.

On the first level, we're talking shoes and iPod only. You get music, you get covering for your feet. Nice provisions.

On level two, you get the sensor, the tracking, the points. Now, you can interact with the content, set the individual goals, see your progress, etc. This is where tracking and points take you.

On level three, you can see the goals and runs set by other people, and use that for inspiration, but you can't do anything meaningful with it.

On level four, you can join in collective challenges. Here's where the power of "we" comes in. Now, you aren't just thinking about your running goals while running or checking out your own stats. Now, you have external goals for which you have to answer to others. You've got to leave work so you can run and meet the challenge. Right. Now. Here's how that same enthusiastic blogger put it:
And the coolest part about Nike+ running? Like any good online game, you can challenge your friends. First to 100 miles? Fastest 5-mile time? Your call. These challenges wind up being incredibly inspiring — running against good friend and athletic powerhouse J. John Afryl kept me on my toes (maybe a bit too much as you'll read later) — and they're also incredibly fun. Logging in after a long run, uploading your data, and seeing where you are in the standings, is a pretty awesome way to wrap up your exercise. And more importantly, sitting around the house, wondering what to do, thinking about jogging, and then realizing that if you don't go jogging tonight you're going to lose points and slip in the standings — now that's true, videogame motivation.
In this way, the architecture of participation is the most powerful of these three mechanics, encouraging customers to think about the Nike+ product even when they are not using it. The gaming and tracking make it fun and addicting, but the architecture of participation makes it pervasive.

And what about level five? One of the interesting complaints out there about Nike+ is that it doesn't provide for enough direct runner-to-runner interaction. Users have argued that running is often a social activity, and that they want to have that same social experience via Nike+. It's not crazy to imagine a future cellphone bluetooth Nike+ that allows you to talk real-time to a running partner half a world away as you both navigate the streets. Without the pyramid of me-to-we supporting it, no one would want such a feature. But now, through the networked challenges, Nike+ users are starting to know, appreciate, and want more ways to interact with each other.

Think about what a strange feat Nike has pulled off with this product. It has taken a non-screen-based, often anti-social, occasionally loathed or feared activity--running--and turned it into a social game. It has transformed the motivation to run from exercise to winning. Imagine if all the calorie counters and pedometers and hybrid car readouts and everything else we track individually were networked and gamed in this way. Imagine if our gardens and books read and other healthy lifestyle activities were rewarded and socialized virtually.

Nike+ took an uncontrolled venue--the streets and trails used by runners all over the world--and created a compelling experience around it. In museums, we're often challenged by the question of how to track and provide a networked social experience without bringing more computers and screens into the galleries. We need to think more like Nike+, more modular, more visitor-centered, with devices that are simpler than handhelds.

Yes, the iPod nano (required for Nike+ use) is functionally a handheld, but it is smaller and more versatile than the devices many museums use for personalized experiences. And you don't have to give it back at the end of the run/tour. I think the most powerful lesson to learn from Nike+ is NOT how the tracking and gaming improve the running experience. It's the way that social networks encourage users to be engaged long after and before they run. This is the holy grail of experience design--creating something so pervasive that people think about it when they aren't doing it. And if Nike can do it for something as feared and despised as running often is, surely we can do it for museums.

2 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know if people started to run because of Nike+. It certainly is a great way to enhance the experience of an already engaged audience. But would it be enough to attract new audience?

Anonymous said...

Interesting post!! I was just wandering about a pair of biking Nike+ iPod shoes. I like to bike more than run due to asthma.