Playing with Drupal Burnout

We went to Playful 2011 recently. It’s a conference where people talk about — you guessed it — the value of being playful in, mostly digital, experiences. This talk by Chris O'Shea is fairly representative of this year’s emergent theme.

At Deeson we’ve been thinking about play a bit too.

Graeme, our Senior Designer, spent a bit of timing playing with CSS (on his day off!) last week to see if he could recreate the Druplicon in CSS.*

He could have gone for a more formal ‘learning’ experience, I suppose — a book or a webinar perhaps. But I think he’d have had less fun.

Effective websites are fun

Stephen Anderson, a design consultant and User eXperience expert, has written about seductive interactions. He spends his life talking about the little things that can make a difference between success and failure in an interaction or an interface.

He often calls this delight, but it makes just as much sense to talk about being playful.

Some interfaces feel like they ‘care’ about you more than others — the designers have thought about you and when you do something the interface responds immediately. The site trusts you enough to play it.

Not only are we more likely to use sites and interfaces which are enjoyable, we’re more likely to use them effectively. Our brains are rubbish at remembering sequences of instructions (sorry, developers, I’m talking about ‘normal’ people here) but they are very very good at remembering how to get little rewards.

Seducing the Drupal Community

There’s a difference between these two ‘playful’ flavours. Graeme, with his pure CSS Druplicon is messing about and seeing if he can break stuff. And then fix it again.

The Drupal community is very good at this. There are probably thousands of developers experimenting with breaking and fixing stuff as we speak.

I’m tempted to say that the Drupal Community is less good at the Subtle Art of Seduction. I’m not necessarily talking about sites built in Drupal — our recent The Making Spot release for Future Publishing plays with a whole bunch of APIs and has a playful, social experience running right through it (if you’re into crafting).

But more within the community itself.

Gamification and Drupal

The most famous example of a playful community of developers is, of course, Stack Overflow. One way of looking at Stack Overflow is to talk about the site design as adding a bunch of point-scoring functionality to the site. A motivation engine, as some people would call it.

But I think it works better to understand the site mechanics as revealing the rewards and the values that are always present in any thriving online community. Stack Overflow notices you when you do cool stuff. Stack Overflow cares.

Paying close attention to your users is seductive.

Investing in structured metadata

If you watch sports — baseball, cricket or Starcraft, whatever, you’ll know that, if you arrive late to a game, you can immediately find out what’s going on. Scorecards are highly-structured metadata.

The same is true on pages in the Stack Overflow community.

Drupal loves playing with data. And Drupal developers have a powerful understanding of the absolute necessity of having good code formatting practices:

Sometimes it feels like a needless pain. Sometimes it feels like wasted effort. Sometimes all those extra spaces and parens feel somehow wasted. But they’re not. Code is an intermediate language — one designed for both humans and machines. Making the code machine-friendly is only half of the equation. Paying attention to the other half isn’t a waste. It’s a long-term investment in continued quality.

I’d argue being playful is a long-term investment in continuted quality.

Drupal and Burnout

A lot’s been written about Burnout in the Drupal community. It even got its own session at Drupalcon. Randy Fay quotes this description from HelpGuide in his series of posts on What can the Drupal Community do about Burnout?:

Most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated; when the dozen balls we keep in the air aren’t noticed, let alone rewarded; when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this most of the time, however, you may be flirting with burnout.

Perhaps the Drupal Community should spend a bit of time playing with how it keeps score? Stack Overflow's a good model. As are Mozilla's Badges and their Open Badges Project. But, as well as all the suggestions on effective management and dealing with burnout on an individual level, perhaps we could make the Community have more of a playground feel?

* If you’re interested, Graeme was inspired by these other examples of famous logos rendered in pure CSS.



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