A gaming layer on reading (and everything else for that matter)

Prompted by a lot of people (Rockjimford and Matt Bagwell especially) I finally got around to watching the Seth Prietbatsch TEDx talk about building a gaming layer over the world.

His central conceit is that the last ten years were about building a social layer on the world with the web. This has now been achieved and is called Facebook, whether you like it or not.

Now you can argue with his premise that the social layer is all done and belongs to Zuckerberg (I’d tend to disagree, on balance) but what Mr Prietbatsch does have is a fascinating lens through which to view the way the world works: it’s all a game. It’s status, appointments and other dynamics that keep the world moving, keep us doing things. And he wants to play with that (and help businesses literally game our gaming instincts).

Paranoia fans who enjoyed and are currently enjoying the corporatisation of our social networks are going to have a lot of fun with this stuff…

Prietbatsch’s own company is a location-based gaming service, called SCVNGR. It comes on like Foursquare but more fun (sets you challenges to complete in various locations) and next-big-thing fans are already putting it forward as the new plaything of edgy marketers everywhere…

You can see some of Prietbatsch’s world-is-all-games logic in a new service called Readness. It connects your Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader profiles and then sets about building gaming dynamics into the way you read.

Since the way many people (including myself, on occasion) read their RSS feeds and links from Twitter in a bit of a compulsive way, gaming ideas like ranking your reading habits against friends, leveling up and going on quests sound like they could work well.

Naturally, there’s a concern if you’re going for quantitative gathering/sharing behaviours there may not be a lot of digesting/reflecting going on, but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

There’s definitely something in using playful, game-type ideas to help us in our daily work. Think GTD with a leaderboard. In a way, the life-saving (in my case*) Pomodoro technique with its got-to-get-don-in-25-minutes mechanic is game-like.

Here’s a video introduction to the Readness service…

Anyway, Prietbastch’s game-thinking has really stuck in my head. We shall speak more of this!

(* If the definition of life-saving can include getting documents written on time.)

Life is like a boxed board game…

Typographical primers & baby steps

My relationship with typography is roughly the same as that with the French language: I know enough to express my enthusiasm, but a couple of sentences in to any conversation and I stumble awkwardly into the limits of my knowledge.

An extract from a new book on typography by Simon Garfield, Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, serves as a very useful and entertaining introduction to the topic. Ranging through history and science while taking in anecdotes about Easyjet, The Beach Boys and Dad’s Army, it is a great primer on the subject.

People take fonts very seriously indeed, you realise (don’t let this quote put you off, the rest of the extract is less technical):

Some type vocabulary has an internal beauty of its own (or it did when all type was metal). Much of this is anthropomorphic, treating letters as living life-forms: the whole character is known as the body, the blank space below the raised letter is the beard, the flat side of the metal type is the shoulder, while the whole raised letterform is the face. Traditionally, a ligature has meant a light linking flourish between two letters that are joined together (such as fl or ae, which require less white space between them than if the letters were used on their own). These days, commonly, a ligature (a feature of both serif and sans serif faces) refers to the two letters themselves, used as if they were one.

Recently, I bought a license for a font for the very first time. It marked the beginning of a new project and felt like a statement of serious intent to myself as much as anyone, a bit like buying a domain name or ordering letterhead. Very grown up indeed.

The font in question was Gotham, a choice inspired by my iCrossing colleague Amo Bassan, a true connoisseur of type and currently working on his own set of masterpieces. Gotham’s modern, stylish and uncluttered, and first came to prominence when it was used by the Obama 08 campaign team, so there’s some resonance for me, given the role the social web played in their efforts.

: : If you’re a font newbie like me, this collection of links to information about fonts looks very useful…