Akoha Makes First Public Presentation at TechCrunch50

Akoha logoI tuned in to the TechCrunch50 video stream just in time to watch Austin Hill give the first public presentation of Akoha. So what is it? Here’s a bold introduction from their site:

In just a decade the Internet’s advances have made the world a better place. At Akoha, we want to take that a step further. With six billion people covering seven continents and five oceans, our planet is the ultimate playground, a place for real people to engage in meaningful interactions.

A Xbox-loving friend of mine recently lamented that real life would be more interesting if it had achievement points like her video games. Akoha has come close to this idea, but with a theme of positive interactions and social change. Hill introduces it as based off “Pay It Forward”, the 2000 movie and 1784 concept that revolves around the idea of receiving a favour, and reciprocating it forward to another person instead of back to the debtor.

Akoha implements this through mission cards with objectives like “give someone a book” or “invite someone for coffee”. Cards can be either virtual or real, and it would seem that the starter kits we offered yesterday are a deck of these cards. Each card has a unique ID that the player inputs to the website when the objective has been completed. A card can then be reused and passed forward. Completion of objectives earns the player “karma points” with rankings on high score lists. The web interface looked fairly engaging, with social network graphs showing people you’ve shared cards with, and maps showing where cards have travelled. Users can submit their own mission ideas, which are moderated.

The judges seemed impressed by Akoha’s unique gameplay, though perhaps not overly enthusiastic. Judge Bradley Horowitz asked if there was opportunity for cards to be sponsored. Hill replied that missions are moderated right now, but that they were looking at sponsorship opportunities that might involve a company donating to a non-profit for each card played. Judge Robert Scoble (subtley plugging his sponsor Seagate) asking if decks could be customized, seeing the chance for them to be used for corporate team building. Hill said yes, as long as the missions were kept in the spirit of the project. Scoble also thought that the cards would make a good business card; Hill replied that the Akoha team’s business cards were already tied in to the game.

I’ll refrain from nitpicking that karma, in it’s traditional sense, isn’t something that can be quantified; sites like Slashdot and Reddit have already had karma points systems for years. Akoha is quite novel, and it’s level of real world tie-in is perhaps it’s greatest strength. The philosophy of turning meaningful human interactions into a game with high score lists is a subject for deeper contemplation and debate, but as Hill put it “we don’t want to create obligation, but oppourtunity”. If it can make people positively connect, that’s good karma.