Didn't work Wednesday: Twitter prediction game

Long before gawk.it was the super awesome site and conversation search engine that it is today, it was actually a Twitter prediction game.

It was still pretty early in the days of the Twitter API (and Twitter itself I guess), and I was mostly just looking for different things that could be built on top of it.

This time around I wasn’t alone, and Pat David and Brian Litvack pitched in a bunch. Pat on the associated web site design and graphics, Brian on the general (potential) business idea and plans around it all. My focus would be, of course, on the programming. All three of us would help to define and test the game.

This was before the boom of smartphones, apps, and the true rise of the ‘second screen’…but we could sense something interesting was coming. Lots of people were already talking about things happening in games, in real time, on Twitter. We thought maybe we could do something interesting and grow along with the trend.

Overall - not a half bad idea. We had a good team, a little bit of domain knowledge advantage (I had tons of sports data thanks to my fantasy and statsfeed stuff), and were noticing a trend early. So why didn’t it work?

As is a trend in this series - lots of reasons really.

1. We were *way* too early. Sure the second screen is a growing trend now, but it wasn’t nearly big enough then. It’s great to identify a trend early but you need to have the resources, and the drive/focus/purpose, to stick around as the snowball slowly builds.

2. The game play was *way* too complex. There were no buttons to click, no graphical gameplay, everything had to be logged via plain text in your Twitter client. Getting it right as a player wasn’t easy, and that meant even if we got everything else right…people weren’t going to play it.

3. The game wasn’t very fun or rewarding. In theory predicting plays and events seems interesting (and I’ve heard the idea many times since around apps and other fantasy pitches people share with me), but in practice it’s just not all that exciting (or social). I believe great games are really about people (and the interaction/connection between them)…a large part of the fun comes from the competition and the challenge (wasn’t much of either in our game).

The other way to make a game interesting, and build competition, is to have rewards and prizes that people covet. Since we had a budget of about $100 in total…it wasn’t an angle we could take.

4. We were building it for the wrong reasons (if we really wanted to make it a legit business). Again a theme you’ll hear a lot throughout this series (as it relates to building a business at least). We were really just playing around and trying to latch on to an emerging trend we had recognized…but we weren’t really driven by a deep need or desire. We hadn’t identified a real problem that needed solving, and we weren’t so passionate about the trend that would force our way into being champions or leaders of it’s emergence.

All of which really just meant, it wasn’t the right idea for us to make work.

Of course it wasn’t all for naught…we learned a bunch about playing with the Twitter API, about dealing with gameplay in 'real time’, trying to piggy back off of emerging trends, and of course working with each other (both of these guys remain near the very top of my 'wish to partner with’ list – and I’ve continued to pester them each with many of my crazy schemes and ideas since).

Also - if nothing else, it was where I came up with the gawk.it name and why it was sitting in my domain collection when the search engine idea came around…which just goes to show, there is always a large amount of unexpected value that can come out of everything…even the things that “didn’t work”!

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

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