Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who Will Tend My Garden?

I was recently having a conversation with some colleagues about the pros and cons of Farmville, the enormously popular Facebook game that lets you "farm with your friends." And, while I have zero interest in ever playing Farmville, it's sensational success does make me wonder what is yet to come in these socially potent online games.

One interesting take on the next big thing for Farmville is from gaming expert Jane McGonigal awhile back at (click her image, the third one, to see her audio quote). McGonigal's research at Berkeley and the Institute for the Future envisions a future where the boundary between the physical and online world of games is blurring, and if she succeeds in her game designs, gaming may be a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives.

In the short audio on The Times website, McGonigal mentions a new platform called Groundcrew and suggests that it is something "like Farmville, but for the real world." She points out that people playing Farmville "are constantly being asked to water your neighbors crops or feed their chickens, but what if you could water somebody's crops in the real world. What if you got alerts when you passed by an urban garden and were able to actually stop and help real urban crops."

Now we're talking! A game like Farmville exploits our willingness to be collaborative, especially in virtual worlds, for the mutual benefit of the group. The idea that this positive quality of games could be lent to the real world to do actual good is profound.

Groundcrew defines their platform by pointing out that, "Customers use our software to organize action: from running city-wide games to helping elderly people in their homes to responding to disasters around the world, you will get to be a part of it." Whether in use as a game, something very "serious", or something in between, the willingness to spontaneously collaborate is extraordinarily powerful, and enabling it to erupt spontaneously and adapt quickly through mobile technology could be a useful workaround for the challenges of organizing for change in the slow-to-adapt urban environment.

Lastly, I've also just found, an online platform that connects gardeners looking for land with those who have land to share. These collaborative sharing platforms are popping up everywhere and for every purpose! This doesn't have quite the same spontaneity and collaborative nature that McGonigal and Groundcrew propose, but it may be that some collaborative sharing does require a more formal and longterm agreement between those who have and those who need.

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