News Gamification

CNN studio

CNN studio (Credit: Wikipedia)

Before dipping into the idea of news gamification let’s take a look in news juggernaut’s rearview mirror. Once upon a time, not too terribly long ago, CNN and USA Today catalyzed dramatic change in the news industry. We didn’t all like the transformation, but it was widespread. And enduring.

Today we expect and “need” the 24×7 news cycle. We’ve swapped in-depth investigative journalism for micro-news, thoughtful debates for ping-pong talking points, etc. I generalize, of course, but you get what I’m saying.

Now let’s add mobile to the equation. Laptops, tablets, smartphones, wearable tech,… From glasses to jewelry, the distinction between online and offline is vanishing. Mobile has become ubiquitous. I read a headline somewhere recently along the lines of “End of Online”. The article suggested that there’s no online/offline distinction any more. We’re always online. Hyperbole, but point taken.

Mobile has revolutionized the way people interact with information. It’s like a pacemaker tethered to us even when we sleep. But what does this have to do with the relationship between gamification and news? Everything!

News + Mobile

Feeding the 24×7 news machine requires a 24×7 audience. And that audience has looots of enticing alternatives vying for attention. Mobile is the 24×7 link to all digital content, heck, even to lots of not-so-digital content. Calls from loved ones, for example. Smartphones are

  • links to our friends and family,
  • access to our money (online banking, PayPal, etc.),
  • consumer portals (Amazon, eBay, etc.),
  • entertainment (ebooks, videos, music, games, etc.),
  • map/calculator/etc. (21st century Swiss Army knife),
  • and virtually everything else we use on a day to day basis!

Don’t misunderstand; our mobile devices are not everything, but they’re coming closer and closer. And they tend to be turned on 24×7. Don’t believe me? Just Google it! (Did you Google it on your smartphone?)

News + Mobile + Interactivity = News Gamification

I recommend you listen to Abigail Edge ( interview David Ho (Wall Street Journal) on the bridge from mobile news to news gamification. Here’s the lead:

There are already many examples within the news industry where the principles of gaming have been applied to online content, from immersive interactives to quick quizzes… So what lessons can journalists learn from the gaming industry in terms of multi-platform products, engagement and user experience? [Especially] … about interacting with audiences on mobile? (

Ho is the editor for mobile, tablets and emerging technology at the Wall Street Journal, and his perspective is uncluttered and spot on. Here are a couple of highlights:

“Mobile is a battle for time.”

“Mobile doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be fancy… full of bells and whistles.”

Swiss Army knife, photo taken in Sweden

News Gamification Tool: Is mobile the 21st century Swiss Army knife? (Credit: Wikipedia)

He goes on to update the conventional wisdom, show don’t tell. In today’s mobile information marketplace, showing is not enough. Engagement is all about physical interaction.

“Feel don’t show… It’s not just looking at a screen. You interact with your device… It’s more than just reading and looking at things.”

Ho describes “dimensional storytelling” or the important of telling stories in more than one or two dimensions. Dimensional storytelling involves creating a physical relationship with your audience, actually including them in the storytelling process.

“The technology that has arrived… allows us to do a lot more with it. There is a depth to it, a third dimension, physical interaction with technology.”

“There is something profound about the physical interaction when you mix it with storytelling… [It] adds more meaning to it and more punch to it.”

He acknowledges that mobile user styles differ and mobile content must adapt to these user differences, but the opportunities for reinvention is endless. News becomes a layer or lens for our experience of the world. And rather than a mind numbing news data stream, mobile devices can liberate stories from the noise and make them relevant. The audience can co-create content on the ground, enriching coverage and amplifying perspective.

But what makes gamification successful? Simply put: motivation. By tracking readers’ success, news organizations provide a sense of progress. This, in turn, motivates readers to continue reading, commenting or performing whatever actions on the site that will contribute to their overall progress. (Mashable)

The future of news gamification is more than quizzes and user submitted footage, more than interactive graphics and geolocated soundbites. The future of news gamification involves rethinking (and quite possibly reinventing) investigative journalism. It will require news media to take risks as they venture out of their tried and true methodologies and experiment with co-creating a collaborative news product with the constituents they serve. Sometimes they will fail. But the good thing about games is that winners are those who try and try again.

Let us know what you think! Thanks.