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Can the community be improved?

By any numeric measure, SAP’s community is a success. Millions of members, thousands of posts, advice freely given by the armload. From what I can gather it contributes to reducing SAP’s cost of service. One of the outgrowths has been the emergence of a new style of influencer in the shape of the SAP Mentor program. So you’d think it represents a win for everyone. Maybe so. Yet how could it be made better?

Motivating people to provide content to the community is easy. Make it a condition of their job. Score points and that becomes part of your performance evaluation. But that sort of carrot and stick is much more stick than carrot. It doesn’t work in the long run because people end up posting a ton of material with limited and decreasing value. 

Another source of motivation comes in the indirect recognition people get for putting out great stuff. That’s nice if ego inflation floats your boat or if you need the occasional validating slap on the back.

Still others see that putting out content is something that can bring them attention when a company has a particular problem to solve. Kerrching!!

And yet others like sharing for the sake of it and happen to believe SCN provides the right forum for them to do so. That’s a kind of altruism that has the joy of sharing as its own reward

The problem with all these forms of motivation is that you can never be sure what the mix of factors is likely to be across points in time. That in turn means you can never be certain whether content is consistently delivering quality or being improved. 

SAP doesn’t provide a particularly strong set of motivators beyond the points recognition system. While that works reasonably well I wonder if we’ve reached a point where that could usefully be enhanced. I’m thinking of adding in the notion of ‘gamification.’

Gamification has become one of the latest hot topics in Silicon Valley. As I’ve said elsewhere, it is a rotten word but one that adequately describes the notion of taking ideas behind gaming theory and applying them to community. It works something like this.

As you contribute, you become entitled to rewards. Those rewards are random and unknown so you don’t for example know what reward will be given at any point along the way. However, this system has proved useful in gaming communities (sic) and elsewhere as a way of driving value. Best Buy uses this theory as does BT.

One element might be the voting up of content considered to be valuable by the rest of the community that in turn leads to a reward. This changes contributions from being a volume game as it is played out now on SCN to a quality game. That makes a lot more sense because it forces contributors to up their game, give away more but provides tangible rewards for doing so. 

From what I can understand, there are measurable upsides for the community owner. That could in SAP’s case be the further lowering of support costs, it could be the exposure of valuable innovations that can in turn be developed. It could be as simple as SAP learning more from its users than is currently possible and from which it can take development forward or in a previously unthought of direction.

Why am I excited by this idea? Simple. I have had solid discussions with folk ‘in the know’ on this topic who are pointing me to cases of success that can be both replicated and scaled.  

Of course not everyone agrees. My good friend Sig Rinde for example thinks of this as applying perfume before using soap. But what do others think?

Would SCN benefit from this style of interaction? If so then how might it work in this case?

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  • Dennis,

    in this community of interests the games we play. isn’t SAP one big business game to make more enterprise info get faster to end user and on more devices?
    in addition to voting buttons (doesn’t NYT use them?) i would add the rest of it like instant link to twitter and disqus or something even more babbly (of the IBM Watson kind)


  • As we know – although SDN has million members, a very small percentage of them actively contribute to content. In that small group – I have no idea how many of them will do anything more if SDN is “gamified”. So the big question in my mind is – will this lead to more people in the “currently reading but not contributing” group to become contributors?
    • Depends on how the ‘game’ elements are established but I would anticipate a higher and deeper level of engagement. Of course I could be completely wrong.
      • I would expect gamification or game mechanics and gaming principles would encourage more people to actively engage (share, contribute) and for those that do already to do so more frequently or more deeply over time.  That would be one of the key goals.


  • Hi Dennis:

    I really appreciate these thoughts.  First for the praise / recognition for this terrific community.  Second, I find motivation, a.k.a. “behavioral economics” (what compels people to click, engage, share, buy…?) a really interesting topic and enjoy learning about it… just today met and heard Barry Schwartz (TED speaker and author of “The Paradox of Choice” and “Practical Wisdom”) talk about this and have read many good related books by Seth Godin, Dan Ariely, and others.  Third, gamification is heating up for us on the SAP Community Network team (I just met @flashmen yesterday and have been doing some research recently on this new-to-me topic, including this blog and Jane McGonigal’s TED talk here and hope to see more game mechanics in our updated point system this year).  I think you’re right on target, and I expect you will see plans gel and execute throughout this year and beyond.  Thank you for your thoughts.

    Mark Yolton

  • One thing I’ve learned is that what motivates me is different than what motivates someone else. I’m a grinder so games and recognition is really an afterthought to me. But I’ve learned to respect the power of gaming because I’ve seen too many examples of people who have engaged in new ways because of gaming. The same with visibility and recognition. I guess what you are proposing here is some combination of those motivations. Perhaps with some random fun spontaneity thrown in which is always welcome, given that the best parts of most days seem to be some kind of unexpected warm gesture or funky gift from a friend.

    I could see it working, as long as it wasn’t easy to “game” the system in the negative sense of voting people up due to an agenda beyond “I love this content.” As in: “Everyone vote up so-and-so to get more visibility for our company.”

    Another related point: figuring out how to prioritize quality content (real quality not content with a commercial agenda) is the holy grail of social search. Google just redid its algorhythm in search of it (and failed) and Facebook is lunging for a whiff of this. Combining this with gaming could be a win.

    Speaking of win, reinvention for the win.

    – Jon

  • Hi Dennis,

    Love the surprise element. Yes competition and who is going to be the top one is a great motivator.

    It would be cool to also have the surprise element in there, some randomness, rolling of the dice that make games engaging.

    Someone once blogged, that even though he visited Walldorf many times, he has never seen anyone really writing code. So his conclusion was that it must have been the elves in the night and that the half drunken coffee cups are what the developers leave for the elves to write their code.

    We once were close to introducing an SCN Elf, but there was too much else going on, so we scrapped it.

    It would just be cool, if every week the SCN Elf would be hidden somewhere else with some interesting coding tips and some long forgotten story from the beginning of SAP time. That mystery element would bring me back every week.

    I miss mystery on SCN, Mark. 

  • Very interesting points Dennis.

    Yes, I think people will be motivated by more recognition (even if only they themselves see this detail). It wouldn’t be hard to show, for example, the various contributions distribution for an individual. A breakdown beyond bronze, silver, gold, bluish silvery, would be good. If you’re an active contributor in HCM for example, that shouldn’t be hard to show.

    In the Wii racing game Mario Kart (apologies to any rights holders if I’ve use the name in a way that is not not allowed) there is a view where you can see how you compare to the world and your region on a distribution curve.
    (about half way down the page on the linked blog).
    One of the nice things is you can see how the guys who make up the top 10 do things. On SCN this could be great – an easy link to the details of these “topic leaders” and perhaps their blog pages/etc.
    I’ve never found it disheartening to be at the back of the pack here – especially when you have a way to learn from those at the front. (but then perhaps I’m not the sort of person you need to motivate anyway.)

    Simply making “My Details” a more interactive (graphical) and interesting area of SCN could certainly motivate people to reach for that next level – push them to be better than the average and by such move the average up.

    I would think, even altruists (a group I do not claim to belong to) like to be recognised, even if that is not their motivation.

    However, this said, if I use the same example of the online racing game, some of the number one spots are held by people who have, quite frankly, cheated. They exploit mistakes in the map that allow them unfeasibly fast times. Quality has suffered.

    In anything that is done, an Agile approach should be followed, try, measure success, refine, adapt, retry.

    I look forward to participating in whatever this space has to offer in SCN.

  • Dennis,
      This is a great challenge (although my first thoughts were more along the lines of daunting, courageous etc).  Motivation is about humans, which are the least trustworthy parts of any system 🙂 Not deliberately, its just that we are so damn complex that trying to create a model that correctly derives my CURRENT motivation isn’t going to be easy…  Then you have the other 2.2 million of us to model.  Of course, having modelled me once, you need to allow that my wants and needs (and therefore motivations for using SDN) are constantly changing !!

    Other issues off the top of my head revolve around participation levels of the various SAP ‘member-types’, if you will.  For example, if we were to reward points based on voting for entries / comments / posts, then we (the community) need to allow for the cases where, say, a high quality post about complex interdependencies between windows, UNIX and oracle releases would not get as many readers (let alone votes) as an average quality post on what happened at a just completed SAP Conference or SIT.

    Mark, Chip,
    I would love to be involved in any of your planning and / or implementations of ideas around community improvement !!

    By the way, I find it very easy to be cynical about “gamification”; just off the top of my head, my thoughts range from the old-fashioned “It’s not meant to be fun, thats why it’s called WORK” to the facile “Your challenge is to keep your job, your reward is you get to keep your job”.  Furthermore, it (the term Gamification) has already started to spawn that massive marketing b/s that “cloud” had for a while.

    The concepts and possibilities behind Gamification is more relevant to Knowledge Workers, and in fact, part of my cynicism is related to my exposure to industrial and manufacturing industries; There are limits, necessary for safety and so on, on the autonomy you can allow process line / assembly line workers.  I can’t immeadiately see how you would “gamify” (my apologies to all lovers of the english language) these kinds of jobs. 

    Maybe gamification is just a way to keep up the spirits of all us office workers, and take our thoughst off the day when the kids ask “What do you actually DO at work ?” 🙂

    • @martin – I agree the name is horrible and I too was highly skeptical. But for what it is worth I spent a good amount of time with Lithium on this. To quote from my ZDNet blog:

      “Off camera, I spoke with Katy Keim, CMO for Lithium Technologies. Lithium operates in an area some describe as ‘gamification,’ a lousy word but one that adequately describes a system of delivering random and unknown rewards as a way of keeping people engaged. I wanted to know whether gamification, which has enjoyed huge success in the gaming world (surprise, surprise) can be scaled and replicated. That is because my observations around developers and gamers suggests a specific type of psycho-social profile where rewards make sense. I have been less convinced that would be true in all environments. Katy agrees but notes there are plenty of industries where the application of gaming theory to social interactions makes sense.

      Lithium trots out a strong list of client companies that have shown demonstrable results from this type of socially oriented activity. I get that. But what I did not know and which is much more important is Lithium’s ability to aggregate ALL its customers’ experiences as it iterates the gaming algorithms. The rewards for one company’s customers will be tailored to that customer group but the aggregate of behaviours is what matters. So while, as Paul, Esteban and I agree that the infinite variability of human response is impossible to fathom programmatically, we can learn more broadly about what ticks the boxes for individuals and provide them with the choices and tools they need in order to receive the value they want as perceived by the business.”

      The whole post is here:;content

      The real key here is “Lithium’s ability to aggregate ALL its customers’ experiences as it iterates the gaming algorithms.” I don’t know any other CRM related cloud player that does this. The advantage of course is they can determine patterns that help develop the ‘gaming’ elements.

      I’ve also validated their claims and understand something of the underpinning neuroscience that goes into what they deliver. It’s very interesting and way outside the scope of what I’d expect to see SAP deliver itself.

      • FWIW, based on some very recent twitter conversations, I would suggest that anyone new to ‘gamification’ look at things like applied neuoscience and behavioural economics. Gamification (the term itself) runs the risk of being treated as lightly as the name suggests…..
        • Good point Martin,

          Professor B.J. Fogg’ Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford is also a great source for these technologies. In 2003 he presented at the Future Salon. Let me tell you, it was very persuasive 😉

          Check it out, Mark.

          • Hello Mark

            Thanks for the suggestion, I like the “Dr. BJ Fogg in 60 seconds” videos on youtube, very interesting.

            Kind regards


  • Hello Dennis

    I’m convinced that overhauling SCN can have a positive impact on sharing content and I have a strong interest in gamification and all the elements surrounding it or influenced by it.

    I also wrote a blog on the question if SCN needs more achievements and rewards: Does the SAP SCN community need more achievements and rewards?

    Of course you will always have persons that are pro/con the idea but we live in a world that changes every day and not improving is standing still. Social media and socializing has become a new standard and I would love to this effect on SCN.

    For the point that someone likes X and someone else likes Y, there needs to be a huge amount of diversity so everyone can share or contribute in the way they would like to do so.

    I’m exciting about the idea to start pushing the “like” button on someone’s blog, to follow bloggers, to have my own list of favorites within SCN, to send messages within SCN, to see my progress on a progress bar that goes back and forth.

    Currently you have no clue how much the community likes your content if they don’t comment on it.

    I’m convinced this is going to change and voting up content or liking it will change the view on this. The number of views that are here today don’t say anything, someone can open a blog look at the subtitles and close it again and you have an additional view.

    Blogs that trigger comments, feedback, discussion are much more interesting but there lies the issue that no one seems to want to be the first who comments on a blog. Of course you can tackle it with rewarding the first person who comments but it also takes us back to the pirating of points which is something that will have to be tackled as well.

    Kind regards


  • I agree that the users that contribute to SCN will have different agendas.

    That said whilst there might be millions of people who have accessed SCN, I believe the number of active contributors may be less than 1%.

    Where the community can be improved in my opinion is to increase the number of active contributors, thus increasing the size of the active community, increasing quality etc.

  • Hi Dennis,

    I’m agree, we need to improve the quality of contributions on SCN community; there are many contributions in forum, blog and article section that are not a real value added, they introduce only entropy to this community. I like to share my knowledge and my ideas with the community, because this is my philosophy; and I always make a selection of the most valuable. Obviously the point system and the new badge system give me a stimulus to carry on.
    Gamification could be an improvement to current point system. Consider Angry Birds, it uses hidden eggs and stars system to increase longevity and this challenges you to improve your score (not in absolute but improve the quality).
    The same logic is also present in Apple Game Center: achievements and standings and many other games.
    We can also consider to introduce also a community feedback to the contributions like quora or yahoo answer; this should guarantee an easy access to the most valuable information.

    I’m available to be part of the “game”


  • Dennis, great article!
    Interestingly I doesn’t need any gamification of the site to make peolpe like you produce great content and thought food.

    Regarding the gamification thing, I believe that this might help to improve the platform SCN technically(in the sense of a sucessful web project) and probably it will help to achieve some technical KPIs, it also will draw the attention of a lot of gamers and those who cheat the game.
    Actually I really have my doubts that this whole gamification stuff will help to advance any social qualities of this or any other community.
    In contrary, gamification in my opinion is in opposition to such qualities as empathy or social responsibility.

    Maybe I am completely misunderstanding the essence of gamification, I’ll watch the developments with interest. I am just already now sure for myself, that I don’t need any surprise diamonds and other easter eggs at all.


    • @anton – the term causes all sorts of confusion and I 100% agree that it has all sorts of negative connotations. I have the same issue with what I call ‘social anything.’ But in this case you have to get behind the term and into the science in order for it to make sense.

      Lithium said to me that thinking in terms of these tools as game playing not only sends the wrong message but isn’t helpful in understanding what’s going on.

      As always, we’re stuck with a term that appeals to marketers but doesn’t stand scrutiny.

    • >>I don’t need any surprise diamonds and other >>easter eggs at all.

      software business provides enough surprises as it is, doesn’t it? i keep finding eggs in SAP software even after 13 years working with it and it makes me come back to find even more.

      @greg_not_so (no tweet)

  • The problem here is that we allow consumption of content for free. Fundamentally we are never going to bring the contribution rate beyond 40% of active consumers without charging for consumption.

    By charging for consumption it means that you ration access to the information and only allow further access if the party contributes in some fashion. A basic system would be all content consumption cost a certain amount of credits. You are allocated so many credits gratis per month. You can earn credits by contributing content back. The type of contribution that earns credit could be as simple as solving/answering a question, contributing a blog or wiki or reviewing content that you provided. The monthly allocation stops “credit gaming”, and helps limit people using the site as a training mechanism. One other failsafe mechanism to prevent gaming is your credits earned in areas that could be abused are put into escrow and not available until review/cooling off period has gone through. The system would also allow folks to lose credits for bad contributions if needed.

    This concept of needing credits to consume is used in successful games such as Farmville, where new content is unlocked through regular interactions.

    I wrote of this concept on my personal blog located here:

    Take care,


    • Hello Stephen

      I don’t think it would such a good idea to charge people to be able to see content. I sometimes open a blog and close it again after I see the content was not what I was looking for. I would be disappointed for sure if I lost currency over it.

      There is nothing wrong with people reading content, yes it would be great to have more active contributors but forcing people to contribute doesn’t help quality. I don’t believe in setting KPI for employees that they have to contribute on SCN.

      I also direclty link this to students, they should have access to the content without the need to contribute themselves.

      I’m pro for a more open approach, more social, more opportunities, more ways to share and connect. I’m convinced it will motivate more people.

      Kind regards


    • Free goes a long way towards building a viable business model in the right circumstances. This is not about ‘free’ but about reward and value. Different idea altogether.
      • The problem is that you assume that a charge = monetary transaction.

        Social games are technically free and only require “purchase” of credits if you want the game to move faster than expected.  You can’t talk about gameification of the community without looking at the succesful models of social games that generate dollar revenue and have no problems with lack of usage.

        Trying to suggest a gamefication of a community without resolving how to encourage individual ownership issues that lead to more active contribution.  It’s not a cost of site issue, it’s how to do you break beyond the less than x% of registered users into contributing.

        Then again I’m just someone in the trenches who has watched the results of what happens when their is no ownership incentive in the community.

        Take care,


        • @stephen – that point about Nielsen’s Law of INequality continues to hold true: 1/9/90 etc. It’s absolutely observable and repeatable across many communities. It does seem however that when concepts around gamification are introduced that engagement rises and that the 1% needle moves. That 1% only has to rise a small amount for that to represent a significant shift in value creation. That’s a big part of where I see the win. Back to quality over quantity which has always been my preference.
          • Agree if we had 1% particpation that would represent 20,000 active contributors which would be about a ten fold increase over what is now.

            All I’m saying is you what to look at gamefication you need to look and consider the models that make social games like Farmville sucessful in terms of participation.  Those games involve “free credits” used to play that refresh over time and ability to earn random awards or pay for more participation during the lifecycle.  At one point the social gaming companies were bringing in more revenue than Facebook.

            However I get the feeling since we aren’t the folks from “lithium”, if any model we are suggesting to game the community is not there, then its not valid.  Sorry to suggest a gameification concept not brought up by them.

            Take care,


          • @stephen – just to be clear, I am not pitching anyone’s solution, I’m merely explaining something I’ve seen and spent time digging into that works based up on an advanced scientific approach to the problem. Anyone who knows me well enough also knows I’m not easy to persuade. On this occasion I’m seeing something that is rooted in areas of science that have produced proven results and which look promising but I acknowledge it isn’t the only solution.

            However, I am mindful that SCN is not ‘free’ either. SAP provides a resource which it funds and which has to return something back to the company. Value in/value out etc.

          • I don’t doubt the research and it being successful for other communities.  I think you might be able to even better apply/suggest this research if you spent a couple of weeks in the “moderator trenches” seeing what the current behavior looks like first hand. 

            Nope SCN is not free, but let’s face it “giving” away the site without expecting anything in return from the information consumers is not a way to build a relationship with those who frequent your site.  This does not mean limiting access, but instead asking for the courtesy of knowing who is using your content and whether that content is useful or could be improved.

            I’m leary of random gift give aways of material goods(remember the t-shirts).  If we want really want quality, then we need to find rewards that promote building of relationships of meaning, vs meeting an random goal.

            Then again I’m sure if you promised random iPad2 giveaways to SCN community members based on participation you could greatly increase the contribution level.  I’ll will be waiting for your first contest announcement.

            Take care,



          • LOL Stephen – then I am standing in the virtual line for goodies, and will do my best to “game” the system 🙂

            Jokes apart – I did go and read more about this, and now think that a proof of concept in SDN is a good idea to see if it will work. As long as this does not become a sophisticated version of the points gaming we saw in SDN – this should be good.

          • > points gaming

            Oh yes, gamification and points gaming how closely they are related.

            Where there is a system, there are people going to try to game that system. As a designer of such a system, you have to plan for it and have the resources time/money to adjust your system to the ever evolving sophistication of the gaming.

            It is like an immune system. Embrace the challenge as in the long run, it will make you system stronger.

            Reward good, punish bad behavior, make sure that the community agrees on which is what and have a dash of joy, surprise and fun in it, that’s the recipe for an engaged community, Mark.