Just got my reminder to drink some water from ...

Just got my reminder to drink some water from Bloom app. And I did… 8 oz, yo! cc: @mindbloom (Photo credit: jennyonthespot)

Since I took a MOOC on Gamification through Coursera, I’ve been on a real gamification kick, focusing primarily on online tools for self-improvement rather than business or marketing uses of the techniques.  My latest exploration has been in a nicely done personal development site called Mindbloom.

What It Is

There are loads of games (I use that term loosely here), apps, and sites springing up with the aim of assisting users to improve aspects of their daily lives in order to improve their health and well-being.  Many of these products and services focus on narrow slices of life – such as encouraging exercise (cf Fitocracy, Zombies, Run!, Nike+, and Map My Run), or a combination of exercise and healthy eating (like Nerd Fitness and Spark People).  Mindbloom goes well beyond the norm by encouraging users to establish a life balance in seven areas:  relationships, lifestyle, career, health, spirituality, creativity, and finances.  And it does it with some nice features and a different slant on the gamification genre.

The Good

There really is a lot to like about Mindbloom.  It takes the points, badges, and leaderboards features of many similar sites and turns them around.  There are points (called seeds) and levels which afford the user with options to either buy new themes or to open up further customization through uploading visual and audio media for use on the site.  But the standard, competitive leaderboard is replaced by a forest of friends – who are chosen by the user – that one is encouraged to support through sharing of resources.  Since users can see (and potentially compare) the health of each others’ trees, competition remains a potential focus for those who choose that lens.  But the display also can be used for cooperation and support if users prefer to interpret the display in that manner.  Likewise, there are badges to be earned and displayed in a user’s profile, but they are prominently displayed.

Additionally, the interface for Mindbloom is a lovely, artistic layout designed to be a relaxing setting for one’s tree, which is the representation of the user’s healthy life balance (or lack thereof).  Sounds of nature and thematic music complete the basic interface.  Most of the icons and action buttons reside in the bottom of the window, and can be pulled out as needed to perform the various tasks, such as setting to-dos, completing tasks, or calling up a customized slide show of inspiring images, quotes, and music.

Finally, Mindbloom takes self-determination to the max with this self-improvement site.  The user picks what life areas to work on, creates the tasks, can upload images, quotes, and music, and picks what themes to display.  The user is given daily suggestions of tasks that they might want to add to the list, but the choice is entirely up to the user.  Whatever you need to work on in your life, you can use this application to remind yourself of how you will do it, and as you complete tasks, you’ll gain sunshine and rain to make your tree …. or that of a friend ….. healthy.

Room for Improvement

On the down side, as a gamer, I found Mindbloom (like SuperBetter) simply too easy.  You can neglect your life and your tree for weeks and still level up, gaining fewer seeds, but still gaining a substantial handful.  There is also no mechanism for differentiating between really easy tasks and those that are real challenge goals for a particular user.  Hence, I tended to create easy tasks and then just mark them right off, which only exasperated the ease of the system.  It’s a small point, but part of playing a game … or even participating in a gamified process …. is mastering challenges.  And there really are none here.  If you are looking for a stress-less lovely to-do list, this fits the bill, but don’t look for a challenge anywhere.

The other thing that makes Mindbloom an interesting trial that I won’t actually use seriously is the challenge of finding friends to include in my forest.  The ability to engage in this self-determined winnowing of whose progress I view is nice on one hand, but it can also derail the social aspect of the game if you don’t have friends with  similar interests.  In my case, friends and family are already happy with their to-do systems, took a brief look at this one and moved on, leaving me with a very sparse forest.

In the end, I think it is a lovely (really beautiful) online program with some gamification elements to encourage self-improvement.  And it is a very good example of how gamification can take advantage of cooperation as well as competition through use of a clever framework of growing lives together.