Why Twilio

I no longer write code every day.  So people laughed when I said I’d write an application that would let members of an organization sign up for robocalls. 

They laughed harder when I said it would launch in a week. 

They’re not laughing now that it’s launched. 

They didn’t know that all the hard work was already done for me, before I opened my IDE.

The Application

The application I wrote is in two parts. 

Part 1 is a simple IVR system.  People call a number and receive four options:

  1. Hear a recorded message about the organization’s upcoming events.
  2. Sign up for automated calls about upcoming events
  3. Leave a message
  4. Unsubscribe from the automated calls.

Part 2 is the outbound calling system.  It allows administrators to:

  1. Upload new audio messages
  2. Type new text-to-voice messages
  3. Launch the robocaller, which calls each confirmed phone number in the database and plays the recorded message or the text-to-speech message when the person answers

That’s it. 

As simple as this application is, many large companies—over 2,000 employees with internal IT—cannot match it.

Yet I, a part-time programmer, designed, developed, tested, and launched this application in a weekend. And so far it cost less than a pair of tickets to a hockey game.

What’s My Secret?

My secret is Twilio.  Twilio is an amazing communications system that’s so simple I can use it.  With Twilio, for about a penny per call or text, you can program your own voice response system or an intera

ctive text messaging system.  

This voice system wasn’t my first success with Twilio. In the past, I’ve combines Twilio with Bunchball’s Nitro to create quick, powerful text and QR Code games for events.  These were a bit more complicated than the simple IVR system I described here.

Still, with fantastic cloud APIs like Twilio and Nitro, all of the hard work I do goes toward making a great experience for my customers.  I don’t spend any time making some technology work. 

As a designer, I love the freedom to create great experiences.

Not All Good News

If you’re a CIO, IT director, or programmer building the guts of an IVR or SMS text system, you should check out Twilio before you write another line of code. Here’s why.

I checked with a company in St. Louis that’s working on a simple text messaging solution. They expect to spend about $125,000 just getting the application built. They’ll still have to pay a quarter cent per text message.  They expect to send and receive about 200,000 texts with the system.

My application took about 20 hours to design, develop, test using a pure eXtreme Programming methodology. The organization expects to send and receive about 20,000 phone calls.  Assuming my bill rate is $225 an hour, their total cost is about $4,500 for the application and hosting, plus $0.01 per call, or $200 total. 

The big company would have to send and receive 48,200,000 messages to see a return on its investment.  At 200,000 texts per year, they’ll reach payback in 241 years.

How would you like to explain that decision to your board? 

I’ll stick with great cloud API systems like Twilio and Nitro. 

Check out Twilio

Check out Bunchball

IBM Research: Q&A with Yaniv Corem, gamification expert at IBM Research

Yaniv Corem joined IBM Research – Haifa in June 2010 after completing his undergraduate work at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, and earning his master’s degree in architecture and computer science from MIT. Aside from his enthusiasm for rock climbing and bouldering, Yaniv is passionate about projects that use the “wisdom of the crowd” to solve difficult problems, complete tasks, gather data, and more.

What is gamification?

YC: Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics in non-game applications to increase engagement. Game thinking can be used to make almost anything fun and encourage people to get involved.

Does competition really help people learn?

YC: Human beings are competitive by nature. Games bring out that sense of competition within a safe and fun environment, where learning takes place naturally. It’s not just competition that does the trick, but an entire set of attributes that make games such powerful tools for learning. Gamification creates a safe environment in which to experiment without suffering the consequences. It also brings in the aspects of new experiences, cooperation with other players, and just having fun.

Competition can be an extrinsic motivator, for example, for a student competing with other students for the best grade on a test. But competition can also be intrinsic, when people push themselves to achieve a certain goal. For example, a toddler learning to stack objects will try the same thing over and over again, while grappling with complex concepts like gravity and balance.

How is IBM using gamification to help people learn and share information?

YC: One great example is in the area of product adoption. New users of Lotus Connections, for example, can find such a feature-rich environment daunting. Bunchball, a leader in gamification, developed a solution for IBM called Level Up to help users adopt Connections. It takes complex learning processes and breaks them up into smaller chunks called levels. At each level, a user/player is asked to perform specific tasks that help teach how to use the product. In return, the users are awarded points, badges, or titles.

Gamification could also be used to keep communities active by rewarding members for their contributions. An interesting byproduct of gamifying a community is the social analytics, such as finding the major contributors; the most helpful contributions; the interaction among community members, and more.

Gamification + Salesforce = a rush.

This is going to be a longer post. I’d say “I’m sorry” or “I should pare it down a bit,” but I’m going to be completely unapologetic on this one…this experience wasn’t something I can easily compress…

So if you haven’t heard of Salesforce.com, I think you will probably still get something out of reading this entry.  I just hope, for your sake, that the rock you are undoubtedly living under is comfortable, because Salesforce is everywhere and it’s not going away.  And now, thanks to some awesome vision, dedication and hard work by many people Bunchball is going to be a part of the Salesforce experience in their AppExchange.

A little over two months ago, I started noticing Bunchball’s founder, Rajat Paharia up late hacking on something unknown.  It was almost as if he lived next door to me, and all I could hear were loud metallic noises coming from the garage.  Being a night-owl myself, I’d get random questions here or there from him, until finally I just had to ask “what in the hell are you working on until 3am every night?”

He explained to me how he was just “playing with Force.com” and exploring gamifying the overall Salesforce experience.  Interesting, I thought, but I still didn’t quite GET it.

The next thing I know, there’s a flurry of Salesforce-related emails going around the office, filling my inbox up like a fire-hose to a shot glass.  And then, the phone call from Rajat comes…

"So, there’s this conference in San Francisco for Salesforce.com, called Dreamforce, and they’re having an app competition.  They’re looking for the best new app in their AppExchange, and we’re going to win it by gamifying Salesforce…are you game? (pun intended)"  Rajat’s confidence, vision, and idea were so infectious that I couldn’t wait to get started at it. 

"…Oh, one thing…we have about 2.5 weeks left to spec out, wireframe, design and code this thing."

Yes. The adrenaline started flowing immediately.  We’re talking the good “this is going to be a rush" adrenaline.  The "fire under your ass" adrenaline.  The "get a helmet, kid, this is going to be a wild-ride" adrenaline.

So we started working furiously towards our goal…

It’s at this point that I should probably point out that both Rajat and I have ZERO experience on the Force.com platform.  Rajat had maybe a month of random hacking here and there, I guess.  But me, totally green.  It might as well have been gamifying a nuclear aircraft carrier…

This turned out to not be that big of a deal.  You see, Force.com made it easy.  We were up and running in no time, and after a good week of wireframing, designing, and writing all the XHTML/CSS…it was time to turn these skeletal pages live and hook them into Bunchball’s Nitro Gamification Platform

As the nights got later and later, and the deadline came closer and closer, it got more fun.  We had this undying confidence that this was going to work great, look great, and beyond that, solve a real need that sales people have.

After some ups and downs and really coding down to the wire, we had made it to the “Final Four” of the AppQuest competition.  That meant I got a pass to an incredible conference and a free trip to San Francisco.  Simply, the experience was incredible. 

We presented our application and stood up with some really solid competition, including another gamification solution.  The judges came back, and up came the most glorious, yet vanilla, PowerPoint slide I have ever seen:

HOLY CRAP. We won. Every little bit of hard work and extra effort completely paid off. I was on cloud 9. It just felt…incredible. We all celebrated, but really, a few of us just wanted to sleep :)

The next day, our booth at Dreamforce was flooded with people wanting to know more about gamification, our product, and the overall narrative of how Bunchball can make gamifying their apps, websites and content a breeze. 

All I had to do is point at our full-featured, beautiful, much-needed app and say “you know what? We did this literally in under a month. And the only reason we were able to pull this off is because Nitro is the best, most robust, most mature gamification platform out there, and Force.com made it a breeze to do exactly what we wanted.”

This is why I love what I do.  There’s always a surprise, a challenge, a goal that looks impossible.  I read just recently a quote that fits really well with what this experience was like…

"A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman.  It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate"

Because of projects like this, the technology and the crew of people I get to work with day-in and day-out, I know that nothing is impossible.  And the reward for making it possible is pretty damn sweet.

Here’s some photos from the event.

Onsite Gamification

Gamification is the application of game mechanics and game-thinking in non-game environments to increase fun and engagement. One set of environments screaming for increased engagement are business web sites. Hence, the advent of onsite gamification (OG). 

Can gamification techniques drive online engagement? This is an open question. However, several vendors have emerged to help us find an answer. These include GamifyBig Door and Bunchball. Bunchball, the oldest vendor, reports substantial positive results for their Nitro gamification platform customers. They indicate that, on average, Nitro users see page views double, page views per visit increase 60 percent, unique visitors increase 30 percent, time on site increase 100 percent, and repeat monthly visits double. Although these results are reported by the vendor, they suggest OC techniques are worth investigating. 

Understandably, the gamification platforms mentioned above focus on that aspect of gamification that can be supported via generic tools and techniques—namely, implementing a rewards system. Such systems seek to increase user participation and gratification via extrinsic rewards. On the one hand, it appears this focus can produce positive results. On the other hand, the jury is still out on the degree to which these results are typical or sustainable. Research in the areas of human motivation and positive psychology often warn that building systems of gratification via extrinsic rewards have a limited and transitory impact on positive involvement.  More powerful and lasting engagement is achieved by growing intrinsic motivations via flow experiences, meaningful stories and contexts, or leveraging powerful social motivators like self-expression, achievement and altruism.  In other words, although OG, implemented via a standardized rewards platform, represents a reasonable, and for many, productive exercise, gamification as a theoretical construct, offers larger and potentially more powerful opportunities for building engagement. Determining how to proceed with OG, boils down largely to the knowledge, creativity and resources one has at their disposal.

In this context, let’s assume we have modest resources available and we seek to implement OG via a third-party, gamification platform. What are the steps involved in deployment? Typically, the first step is an analytical one. Two questions should be addressed:

1. What is it that your users want to achieve by visiting your site?

2. What is it that you want visitors to do?

It’s good to prioritize these lists and test them against analytics data. Your ultimate goal is to map rewards to those actions and behaviours that are most aligned with your user’s desires.

Knowing what you will reward is only the first step.  The next step is figuring out how you will reward. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, get creative and do some math. (Yes, it’s good to have both right- and left-brained people in the room for this process.) Your goals are to create a basic points system, enhance it with level incentives and badge rewards, add real-time feedback, grouping and leaderboard mechanisms, provide real or virtual goods for which points can be redeemed, and tie it all together with a dash of motivational psychology focusing on playfulness, surprise, loss aversion and time limitations. (A good game, by definition, always has fun obstacles to overcome.)  

Once all this is down “on paper,” it’s time for a technical person or team to bring the system to life by integrating your chosen platform’s tools and widgets into your site. The implementation challenge is to make the gamification layer look and feel like a natural and seamless part of your site. When this implementation is complete, you can begin tracking user behaviours, comparing your optimized site against a baseline set of metrics previously established.  

In the end, OG is a challenging engagement optimization—even when using a gamification platform. One is called to assess user needs and behaviours directly in way that will be unfamiliar to many site owners, especially those who may be more accustomed to measuring the results of users’ activity rather than focusing on the psychology of their actions. At the same time, it has tremendous potential for increasing user engagement. 

(This is an abbreviated excerpt from my report on site engagement optimizations.)


Motivating people through data: Measuring, rewarding and giving recognition.

The next big enterprise acquisition target? Gamification startups

#SuryaRay #Surya Social enterprise acquisitions have been the all the rage in the last year. But if you want to find the next big acquisition target, consider gamification startups.

Bunchball founder and Chief Product Officer Rajat Paharia told me he expects it won’t be long before gamification companies will be buyout targets soon by the SAPs, Oracles, Microsofts and Salesforces of the world. Obviously, he has a vested interest in this, but there are some compelling reasons for why this theory may come true in the near future.

Gamification, with its reliance on points, badges, leaderboards and rewards, appeals to some basic human desires for fun, competition, interaction and achievement. The concept has been around for year and has been traditionally used to incentivize consumer behavior; think of frequent flyer programs and other loyalty systems. But corporations are increasingly seeing this as an effective way to get more productivity out of workers. As more work moves online and goes virtual, firms are looking for new tools to encourage their employees and push them toward their goals.

“Gamification is a core offering for the enterprise,” said Gabe Zichermann, the chairman of the Gamification Summit. “Today it’s a tactic but over the the next couple of years it’s going to be a core feature set for enterprises driven by the consumerization of IT.”

Zichermann doesn’t think there will be a lot of immediate acquisitions of gamification startups this year. But in the next 12-24 months, he believes big enterprise companies will start to make moves in this space as their top executives realize the strategic benefits of gamification.

For many big software companies, adding gamification can complement social collaboration tools such as Yammer and Chatter and can work alongside existing HR performance software and customer relationship management programs. It can become part of a complete suite of services that software companies offer their clients, who want to engage both consumers and their own workers. Many of the big players are already making investments in this area.  Salesforce last year bought Rypple, a social performance management platform that employs game mechanics. IBM has been working on its own product called Innov8, which has been effective in generating leads and traffic to its website.

Gartner has predicted that by 2014, more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one “gamified” application and half of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes by 2015. While some companies are already dabbling with their own in-house gamification efforts, many other enterprise companies are turning to startups like Bunchball, Badgeville, BigDoor, Gigya and others to implement game mechanics into their processes.

Paharia, who founded Bunchball in 2007 before the term “gamification” took hold, said his company now has more than 200 customers including names such as Warner Brothers, Comcast, Hasbro, Mattel and others. About 90 percent of the business through the end of last year was selling to corporate customers, who used gamification to engage consumers. But now, about 35 percent of Bunchball’s deployments are for companies using game mechanics to motivate enterprise workers.

He said enterprise software companies and their customers are realizing that gamification can be an effective tool in addressing the constant struggle over getting workers to use software.

“They’re all making software but whoever figures out how to get their software used regularly will win. It’s a problem of motivation,” he said.

A year ago, Bunchball introduced a product called Nitro for Salesforce’s AppExchange, giving Salesforce customers an easy way to add on gamification tools. Bunchball has also teamed with Jive to integrate its game mechanics into Jive’s social business platform. Rival Badgeville has partnered with Yammer to improve employee performance and launched its own program to integrate with enterprise software applications from Jive, Omniture and Salesforce.com.

The big question is will the big enterprise software players be content to partner with gamification startups or will they seek to buy the technology or try to build it themselves. If these companies can develop the gamification knowhow in-house, that could keep them from looking to acquire any of the dedicated gamification startups.

Gamification still faces plenty of hurdles. It will need to prove it can produce consistent, tangible results. And it will also need to overcome the skepticism of critics, who see a lot of hype and buzz in the concept. Many still see gamification as a passing fad or old methods dressed up in new terminology.

But if this crop of gamification startups continue to win over corporate customers and prove their worth in the enterprise, don’t be surprised if we see them get snatched up in the next couple years.


http://dlvr.it/29JVCr @suryaray
2 Updates for the Price of One

It’s 100 degrees (or thereabouts) in St. Louis, so here’s an update on two hot topics.


For two years, I’ve been assisting Barry Kirk with bringing game science into consumer loyalty, sales incentives, and employee engagement. For most of that time, we’ve been lucky enough to work with the great people at Bunchball, the world leader in gamification.

Last week, Bunchball’s latest invention, Nitro for Salesforce, won AppQuest 2011: Best New Salesforce App.  

That’s quite an endorsement of Rajat Praharia’s vision, which now powers some of the most popular entertainment sites on the web. 

That’s also a validation of the gamification concept.  Using the game designer’s toolkit when designing non-game events, applications, and programs gives people a better experience. People respond to better experiences with increased participation.  That’s a simple concept, and it’s getting serious traction.

No matter what field you’re in, if it involves people, it will benefit from game science and persuasive design thinking.  You can get started with Bunchball’s new Nitro Elements tool for instant gamification.  Try it on your blog or website. It’s a great Labor Day project.

Standing Desk

In June, I told you about my experiment with a standing desk.  I’ve received some emails about how that experiment is going, so I figured I should update my progress.

First, I’m still standing. It seems more natural to begin work now.  When I enter my office, I have a straight line to my workstation.  When I want to take a break, I simply turn an walk. I like that feeling of freedom.

Second, I’m more productive. At least I feel more productive.  I focus better standing.  I work in short, intense bursts of activity.  Over the course of one hour, I accomplish more than when I’m sitting.

Third, like Gamfication, standing desks are becoming commonplace.  Right after I started standing, I took a tour of HON Office Furniture’s headquarters in Muscatine, Iowa.  About half of their employees requested standing desks during a recent renovation.  

Now, Facebook reports that more of its employees want standing desks.  The Wall Street Journal online points out that people are learning of the health risks associated with sitting:

A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society found that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37% more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than three hours, while the early-death rate for men was 18% higher. The American College of Cardiology released a study in January that found increased mortality among people who sat longer at home than those who didn’t.

The back and neck problems that first inspired me to stand up are mostly gone.  I get a twinge in my neck only when I’ve been sitting and typing for long stretches. That usually happens only during long meetings.

If you’d like to try standing, it’s simple. I built a wooden desk topper from materials available at The Home Depot for about $40.  Others have created desk toppers for less


What are you working on?  Telling the world about it can only help your motivation. Use the comments section to inspire yourself and others. 


This video delivers several impassioned and articulate insights related to gamification and marketing by Bunchball’s founder and CPO Rajat Paharia. I’ll highlight and comment on three.

1. Paharia distinguishes between two popular definitions of “gamification.” On the one hand, gamification can refer to the integration of game mechanics around an established piece of content, experience or program in order to drive participation, engagement and loyalty. On the other hand, gamification can refer to the creation of a new game whose whole purpose is to be a carrier of some message. Paharia uses this distinction to claim that “gamification as integration” is easier, and provides greater opportunity for business, than “gamification as game development.” To illustrate this point, he describes how psychological motivators and game mechanics were leveraged to build a successful fan loyalty program. Paharia has a point. But let’s be careful. First, as processes, integrating game mechanics and building a new game both rest on a continuum known as game design. The important (and implied) contrast here may be one of using a generic platform to implement game dynamics versus implementing via custom development. (We’ll bracket out the larger issue of the particular definition of “game” implied in such contrasts.) Second, we should not confuse efficiency with effectiveness. Wrapping a generic set of gamification tools around an established piece of content, experience or program may be relatively efficient. But as more businesses gamify their offerings, can we not expect effectiveness levels to approach those of video games in general—where 80% of games, according to common measures, suck? 

2. Paharia effectively communicates the importance of behavioural marketing and reward automation for web site owners. In most cases, even if a business is functioning in a B2C context, there are significant benefits to mapping, scoring and rewarding the individual behaviours of visitors. The metephor of a customer raising his/her hand (vying for our attention) is a powerful one. Implementing a game layer has, in some cases, significantly improved a business’s ability to recognize and reward those with hands raised.  

3. I appreciate Paharia’s efforts to shift the marketer’s focus from content to behaviour, or to what he calls the “science of engagement.” “It’s not about who can create the most funny or clever creative. It’s about listening to…customers because they are talking to you through their actions…listening to [these actions] and responding in real time with incentives to get them to do more [of the things you’d like them to do].”


I’m fascinated by this! #df13 #robot #bunchball (at Dreamforce 2013)

Gamification on Another Level

We’re driven by challenges and the desire to win. It’s in our blood as humans, some more than others. Gamification fuels that drive and brings the competition to technology. We see it in web applications, mobile apps, project management tools, etc. But if you’re a company looking to motivate your employees or engage with customers where do you start? There’s plenty of sites that will explain the theory behind gamification, but few that provide that platform like BunchBall.

They apply the same principles that inspire people to play games – achievements, status, and rewards with their Nitro Platform to bring the power to…read more

Bunchball Wins Best Salesforce App

Today, Bunchball’s Nitro for Salesforce has won the prize for “Best use of gamification in the enterprise” at the Gamification Summit. The award wasn’t their first success, as the application had been awarded 1st place for “Best new Salesforce application” at last year’s edition of the same event. Nitro for Salesforce was up against platforms such as MindTickle, the Deloitte Leadership Academy and the Jive Gamification Module.

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