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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Driving User Adoption…Socially | SharePoint and Badges

Guest Author: Daniel McPherson

I recently presented a session titled “How to be more Social” at the SharePoint Australia and New Zealand conferences. The basic premise was to talk about some of the experience I picked up helping large organisations do better Knowledge Management through “Social Computing”. It’s things like http://demo.zevenseas.com.

As the events got closer, I decided to include something a little “out there”, something I’ve yet to see an organisation adopt, but which I think could make a difference to user adoption. To my surprise, it was probably the section of my session that got the most traction, so I wanted to follow it up here.

The Problem

The biggest challenge an organisation faces during the roll out a new solution is not the technology. The technology is always the easy bit. The difficult bit is the people. There’s just something about us psychologically that we are resistant to change. I see this in myself, catching moments every now and then where I get annoyed at SP2010 for no reason other than the fact that it has changed even when, in most cases, it’s a change for the better.

To put it another way, there is no product feature or technical innovation which will make overcoming our innate psychological predisposition against change easier to overcome. Further, exactly how you should go about overcoming this resistance is all art and no science. User adoption remains one of the biggest challenges we face. Just ask Microsoft what percentage of their SharePoint licenses are actually deployed.


This is why I like the concept of “Badges”, it plays on another innate psychological predisposition, our desire to collect things, and our need to be rewarded. Badges provide a way of rewarding people for using the solutions you build in a constructive and beneficial way, and people are motivated to use your solutions in this way in order to collect all the badges. Its a positive feedback loop, its bringing “game” based elements to your intranet.

Before you write this off, and with it my blog, let’s take a look at some examples.

The first example is a geeky one, the Xbox. Today, nearly every Xbox game comes with the concept of “Achievements” built in. Why do we have achievements in games? Because it motivates people to play a game more, and getting more game hours out of a title means more value for the gamer. It is a solution that publishers created in order to overcome a classic “user adoption” problem.

Stepping out of the geek world for a moment, how many people were in the Scouts? If you were, then how many badges did you collect and why did you collect them? Badges in the Scout movement reward people and keep them engaged, there is always a new knot!

What about the military? There are badges all over the place, they convey rank, they convey bravery, they motivate. And when you were at school, your teachers understood how valuable badges could be in promoting good behaviour and completing school work, anyone get a smiley face stamp? You see we have always loved badges, it’s part of the human condition.

Heading back to the geek world, it’s now rare that a new mainstream site will launch and become successful without the integration of some sort of “game” based elements. The best recent example of this is Foursquare. The designers of the solution wanted people to check-in their locations on their phones, allowing them to see if friends are nearby, and be offered deals for frequenting nearby vendors. To encourage people to “check-in”, they introduced both the concept of becoming a “Mayor” and lots of badges. The person with the most check-ins at a certain location became the mayor, complete with leaderboard, and by doing different types of check-ins, you collected badges. What happened? People started competing, and the number of check-ins went through the roof. They solved their user adoption problem because people were encouraged and motivated to use the solution in exactly the way it was intended.

To me, all of this says that badges can work for SharePoint too. More specifically, applying the concept of badges to our solutions can give us just one more tool in the kitbag of user adoption techniques and strategies. So I built a proof of concept.

How does it work?

The coolest new Social feature in SharePoint is, without doubt, the Activity Stream. This is basically SharePoint’s version of the Facebook newsfeed, providing you with a list of (nearly) all the interaction a user has with SharePoint. Tag a document, it goes in your activity feed. Update your profile, it goes in your activity feed. Rate a blog post, it goes in your activity feed.

This is exactly the sort of information we need to build a badge system. A person updating their profile is a good thing, and they should be rewarded for ensuring that that information is up to date. In this case, rewarding them comes in the form of an “Autobiographer” badge, a gold badge, which is displayed on their “MySite” profile.

The diagram below shows a users “My Site” before they have collected any badges:

If we now go and edit the users profile, we should see it added to their Activity Stream on the left and, at the same time, see a new badge appear on the right.

In this case it’s a silver badge, but you can also create Gold and Bronze. Hovering over the badge reveals more information about it.

To setup these rules, I created a very basic rules engine. Essentially it just counts the number of times a particular Activity appears in a persons stream, then when you go over that number, you get the badge.

We are currently working on a more sophisticated model which provide for more possibilities.


In summary, I firmly believe that badges have enormous potential. Driving adoption has always been, and remains, the biggest challenge facing those looking to realise maximum business value from their investment in software based solutions. Frankly, we need all the help we can get.

If you are interested in badges, and think it could make a difference to SharePoint in your organisation, drop me an email daniel@zevenseas.com. I love talking about this stuff!

Further Reading:

Check out Badges and Point on http://www.stackoverflow.com

Coding Horror (the developer behind Stack Overflow): http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2009/03/the-worlds-largest-mmorpg-youre-playing-it-right-now.html

Guest Author: Daniel McPherson

Daniel McPherson has been involved in SharePoint since attending the first public announcement of project “Tahoe” at the Microsoft Technical Briefing in January 1999. It has had a profound impact on his career, taking him to the doorstep of hundreds of companies, of all shapes and sizes, in a range of industries and in over 25 different countries. After 10 years at Microsoft, spent mostly in Microsoft Consulting Services, he co-founded zevenseas (www.zevenseas.com), a boutique consultancy focused solely on the SharePoint platform, and is having more fun than ever before.

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15 Responses to “Driving User Adoption…Socially | SharePoint and Badges”
  1. Kerri says:

    Thanks! Love the potential here! Cool stuff indeed.

  2. Greg says:

    Are you guys going to use this feature on the new SP2010 boosted EUSP/DevWiki/JoelOleson platform. I really do like what they are doing on Stackoverflow [http://stackoverflow.com/badges].
    That would be a good way to motivate even more people on STP to provide answers.

    Thanks for sharing this! It is truly a new field to explore for SharePoint and I am glad you bring it up.

    A while back, I watched this video of a conference presentation by Amy Jo Kim titled ‘Putting the Fun in Functional: Applying Game Mechanics to Functional Software’
    Really inspiring.


    • EndUserSharePoint says:

      First phase of the project we are using tags and 5 star ratings. I would LOVE to implement badges and such, ala SharePointOverFlow. They have a beautiful system. Who knows… maybe we can convince them to come on over :-)

  3. Isaac says:


    Great article! I think you’ve really hit on something. Potential hurdles I see are specifing the rules, and getting buy in for “badges”. Its a great way to drive user adoption. I look forward to seeing the implementations you come up with over at Zevenseas.


  4. Daniel, great post! Really like the concept. I think adoption of these sort of identifiers that we see commonplace in the social media world make sense. Great job spelling it out here.

  5. Thanks for the feedback folks, glad you enjoyed the article, its certainly a fun space to be playing around in.

    @Greg, will check out the video, thanks for the link.
    @Isaac, hope you are well buddy, stay tuned on that one, hoping we can get something out for people to play with by late August.
    @Michael, I think it will become common pladce too, at least in subtle forms. We should have a chat about it sometime.

    Thanks folks!

  6. Ty says:

    You hit the nail on the head. Users adoption is easiest when the user sees the value right away (usually not the case as it is change) or when it is a game / competition.

  7. Chris Quick says:

    This is a very interesting idea. Is this being accomplished through third party code or using out of the box SharePoint 2010 functionality?

  8. Custom code, we should have something on that front for the community for around late August.

    • Chris Quick says:

      Thanks for the update. I wish it were a little sooner since we are piloting a project with SharePoint 2010 that would be an ideal candidate for something like this, but we have to demo next week part of the solution.

      However, it has provided some ideas for my team as we begin working through the implementation for one of the proof-of-concept sites we will be launching. While it would be better to push “badges” to the user profile, we’re going to attempt to use “badges” in a site. Hopefully this will provide some additional value to our business users. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for us! Thanks!

  9. Drop me an email: daniel@zevenseas.com, for a PoC I might just have something for you that works.

  10. Jay O'Hara says:

    Great Idea Daniel!

    User Adoption is one of the largest hurdles we face with SharePoint implementations. I’ve long thought about rewards and have used this approach with success.

  11. C. Marius says:

    Hi Dan,
    I’m in the middle of a simillar process concerning the “measurment” of adoptability as part of our “social intranet”. I was also considering the same concepts being inspired by fourSquare, however in the intranet, and it feels me with great pleasure to learn you’ve gone further.

    Any updates on your release for your development on codeplex??

    C. Marius

  12. Hi C. Marius,

    We are getting close, not exactly sure if we will be releasing it on Codeplex at this stage, still working through that detail. Feel free to drop me an email directly and I can get you involved in the Beta.


  13. Thomas King says:

    Gaming mechanics are interesting but I wouldn’t over state their value. I’ve read a couple of papers which indicated that in the real world (not gaming) that people once they reach a certain level that puts them in the “safe” zone of contribution (i.e. they have badges and are not singled out for not contributing) that they will stop contributing. I’ve often thought the way around this would be to make the badges temporal – sure maybe not the same amount of effort to obtain but something like CPE hours, continuing effort to maintain.

    Additionally I think it’s important to recognise effort outside of behind firewall social media contributions e.g. badges should be tied relevant business skills or achievements (picked up out of relevant enterprise systems) e.g. Top 10 Performer Q1 2010, Gold Idea Candandiate – Saving $1M+, Mentor 2010 … you get the idea.

    Thomas King

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