My Simple Minded World

A Framework for Understanding Motivations

Posted in business, The Interweb by Omar Ismail on April 16, 2009

Audience. Community. Social. Viral.

These are all buzzwords that have gained popularity over the past few years to try and capture the fuel that has propelled success stories like Facebook and YouTube. But what does this actually mean, and how can we recreate them?

Based upon the work of Amy Jo Kim (Building Communities on the Web), Richard Bartle (Players who suit MUDs) and Andrew Chen (Futuristic Play) I’ve developed an analytical framework for evaluating ideas and initiatives on how they impact a person’s attachment to your site.

Motivational Taxonomy


I split up motivations into two broad categories, “External” which I qualify as things that will affect a person’s real life in some way, and “On Site” which is limited to things on the site itself. While the focus of this article is on the “On Site” motivations that isn’t to say that “External” motivations aren’t important. In fact I would argue that a large part of Facebook and Twitter’s success come from how the services affect a person’s real life. However, these External things are pretty self-explanatory and don’t need to be covered in depth. In my research I found the OnSite factors to be a more difficult thing to quantify and that’s what I’m attempting to model.

Identity (I)


This refers to a person expressing themselves to the world around them.

Who am I?

What am I about?

What do I like?

What do I want to do?


As a benchmark to illustrate what I mean by Identity: Facebook. People’s profiles are an incredibly close approximation to who they are as a person as people use their real names, real pictures, real interests, real friends.

MySpace is another obvious example but in a different way as the profile pages are focused on manufactured identies and creative customization.


Relationships (R)


This motivation is defined by a person being socially engaged with another person or persons. Humans are social creatures and we want to have a sense of belonging.

We want to communicate with like-minded individuals, have shared experiences, and shared traditions.

A benchmark for relationship building is MySpace in the old days, and Twitter now. These services are about building a broader and broader breadth of relationships. Some services like niche social networks, or hardcore MMO games focus on increasing the depth of people’s relationships to one another.


Content (C)


This is the person’s affinity towards the actual content on the site. They may be passionate about a particular topic, enjoy the nature of the conversations, find the content funny/entertaining, etc. We all have interests and content that we like to consume, I like watching Street Fighter 4 videos instead of cooking movies.

A benchmark for content is Wikipedia. For any topic you might have an interest in, they have a wealth of high quality content to consume.

I would argue that for outsiders, chatrooms rank low on the content scale because the individual conversations present little value.


Weightings and Score

Every site/service can be graded on these three metrics and scored relative to whatever benchmarks you choose.

This isn’t the entire story though, as each individual has their own importance and weighting they apply to each metric.  And a person’s weightings will shift depending on the topic at hand.

These weightings combine with a site’s metric rankings to get a person’s individual site score.

SCORE = w1*I + w2*R + w3*C

The resulting SCORE determines how much attention a person will give a site. As long as the score falls above that threshold the more time/attention a person will give. Therefore stickiness is achieved when (I,R,C) increases the more time a person puts in.


Applying it to People

This is all well and good, but how do we apply this to people, and how do we know what people’s weightings are? Well this is where Bartle’s paper comes into play. From analyzing MUDs in the 90s he proposes that there are 4 distinct classes of users/members.

  • Achievers – get satisfaction from overcoming obstacles, gaining ranks, and improving their status
    • C >= I > R
    • Sees the service as a game (chess, checkers)
  • Socializers – want to talk and build relationships
    • R >> I > C
    • Sees the service as entertainment (bar, club, etc)
  • Explorers – want to see/experience everything the system offers and testing the boundaries
    • C >> I > R
    • Sees the service as a pasttime (gardening, reading)
  • Instigators – enjoy stirring up trouble
    • I >= C > R
    • sees the service as a sport (hunting, fishing)

So we can attract or at least make our sites more attractive to these personality types by creating features, policies and intiatives that appeal to them.

What makes things really nice and messy is that each of the people in the system has a substantial effect on one another. Bartle provides a nice interaction diagram (I call Instigators what he calls Killers).


So you can see that the more Killers/Instigators there are the fewer Socializers. More Achievers and Socializers brings more Instigators, and Explorers are in their own world.


Bringing it all Together

This analysis brings a few questions up

  1. What kind of population distribution makes the most sense for your site/service?
  2. What initiatives do you do to appeal to each personality type in the context of your site/service given you better understand their motivations?

While these questions are still difficult to answer and require creativity/innovation they’re at least a lot more grounded and workable than generic statements than the usual “let’s make the service better”.

A new model for digital media

Posted in business by Omar Ismail on March 17, 2008

I’ve come up with a model that movies studios, consumers, and technology providers can live together in harmony.

Each party is responsible for their core competency, you don’t have inefficient redundancies, profit will increase, and consumers won’t be screwed.

Let’s examine what each party offers.

Movie studios – they are the content producers and IP holders.

Content Delivery – iTunes, Xbox Live Marketplace, Blu-Ray discs, DVD discs, Amazon Unbox, etc… all of these are just delivery mechanisms to get the content from the studios to where you can consume it.

Playback device  – Xbox,  Computer, Set top box, AppleTV, etc

The problem with the traditional model is that everything is bundled into one service. Xbox Live Marketplace and iTunes are perfect examples of this. When you rent/purchase media from these services you have to buy the IP rights from them, you have to use their delivery mechanism, and you have to use their playback device.

My proposed model decouples everything.

1. Let me buy the IP rights to watch the media in any way that I choose.

2. Let me use any delivery provider I want.

3. Let me consume the content on any device I want.

There’s already a lot of literature on points 2-3, so I’m going to focus on point 1-2. If I’ve already bought a DVD, I’ve paid for the IP rights to that movie, so why should I pay for those exact same IP rights when I buy a movie from iTunes? Make buying the IP rights a one-time deal. Let me take those rights with me to different providers. If I own a view-license then let me download the movie on Live Marketplace for my 360, let me download it on iTunes for my computer, and I’ll pay for the delivery SERVICE, but I won’t pay for the rights multiple times.

Have content producers compete on the CONTENT.

Have delivery services compete on the SERVICE and not the content.

Have playback devices compete on the PLAYBACK and not the service.

If we focus the competition then the space will innovate at a rapid pace. If we don’t price gouge the consumer they’ll be willing to pay for the content in a lot of different ways that is convenient for them.

We’re already seeing some movement in this decoupling.

There has already been some decoupling in the delivery mechanism and playback space. Amazon Unbox is playable on TiVO devices, Xbox 360/PS3 will play downloaded content (usually pirated).

Some new DVDs contain an iTunes digital file unlock code so you get the iTunes movie along with the DVD.

This is the way of the future.


In this digital world, implementation is actually quite easy from a technical perspective. Follow the credit card model. Use a centralized licensing database. Give me some security credentials that are tied to an account that stores and tracks which licenses I have access to.

I can purchase these licenses directly from the movie studios, from the delivery providers, from resellers, whoever. Then I use those credentials with a delivery service who checks the database to verify I have the rights before sending me the content.


1. Too complicated – for the average person giving them direct access to these concepts would prove too much I agree. But let’s give people some credit. I’m confident that an abstraction layer on the interface could hide the underlying mechanisms so everything works seemlessly. This would be difficult, but would definitely be worth it. A model like this lives or dies on ease of use for the consumer. Though the decreased costs should give some leway of not being perfect.

2. Using a centralized mechanism – in general yes these are usually best to be avoided. But come on, centralized databases aren’t inherently evil in themselves, and are sometimes the preferred design approach. Having a 3rd party handle the licenses lets it be regulated, reduces the red tape that everybody has to go through, and should be a non-profit industry entity like exist with web standards. The benefit is that movie studios only deal with one entity, and content deliverers only deal with one entity. And make it an international body to make things REALLY easy.

3. It won’t happen – if this model results in more money for everyone, then it will. It will take a major force to create though. A company with vision, and the resources to make a big bet. Apple is too much in bed with the media. It’s too innovative for Microsoft, and the natural trust issues. Media companies won’t have the long-term vision. The best bet is on Google, since they’re all about platforms now.

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