Once upon a time, Yahoo! developed a website called Yahoo! Answers where users could answer posted questions for points and win extra points when their answer was named “Best Answer”. Users could keep answering questions, accruing points, until their accumulated points gave them designations like Level 3, Level 4 etc. A user can reach Level 7 status by accruing 25,000 points. Over 2 million users are on Yahoo! Answers.
I have 874 points on Yahoo! Answers. The points are worth nothing.
Later, location-based social networking sites like GoWalla and Foursquare showed up, and began awarding people points and badges and mayorships to practically anyone who wasn’t a shut-in (or even if you are). Lots of points, all for leaving the house, and telling a piece of software and some friends that you left the house and went somewhere else. Foursquare has over 5 million users. GoWalla is aiming for one million. The users with the most points get to see their name up on a leaderboard. On my leaderboard, a guy named Jerry C. has racked up 2,679 points since Monday.
I scored 66 points on Foursquare this week. Still, the points are worth nothing.
Other websites have developed, awarding points for practically any activity, such as performing challenges in public venues, solving protein-folding problems, helping people use Facebook, giving diet advice, exercising, and even doing housework.
Still think the points are worth nothing?
Authority. Status. Identity. Reputation. Victory.
Points mean all of these things to all kinds of people. Valuing arbitrary, non-redeemable points tells us that we can leverage specific facets of the human condition:
- the desire to be better than our neighbors
- the desire to be different from our neighbors
- the desire to have power or authority over them.
By exploiting that desire, we can solve problems or build a community or whatever is our heart’s desire. So if you’re a small B2C business, or a B2B business, or a nonprofit, how could you leverage those desires to inspire competition? If you’re a small sandwich shop, you could reward points to regular customers, give them extra points for trying out different sandwiches, and put up a leaderboard with pictures of your best customers. The winner each week could get a sandwich special named after him/her. And your customers will go for it.
All in the name of points.
And now, Drew Carey insisting that points don’t matter, on “Whose Line Is It Anyways?”