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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

(Mouse) Killer apps

It has been a long time since I have seen an application that makes me think, "This could be the type of killer app that breaks the (copper) network and demonstrates that the so-called 'non-existent demand' for bandwidth is a fallacy", but I think I may just have found one.

I came across Youtube in its very early days and its use of video (high bandwidth reqs) and the symmetry of the app - I'll upload, you watch and vice versa, was the last such app. Nowadays, Youtube is a name everyone knows, but Mousehunt may not be.

I don't think MH in its current state threatens bandwidth caps or the core network. Any more than Youtube or Iplayer does yet really - I still can't watch a Youtube video or a BBC programme without jerks, buffering, and total frustration because of the poverty of the UK rural broadband network and the greed of its operators - but MH has all the ingredients to do so in the next 12 months or so if its developers keep to the successful recipe they have discovered.

MouseHunt is a Facebook application. Now before everyone switches off - you ignore social networks at your peril in business and government in 2008 - it is what it embodies that matters.

To explain though, MH is a simple online game. Basically, you build a mousetrap, buy some cheese and set off to the help the King of Gnawnia rid his kingdom of mice. As you catch more mice, you win points and gold, can upgrade your trap, buy different types of cheese, and move to different regions of the Kingdom, winning points to progress up through the levels of novice, apprentice, journeyman, master etc, which opens additional doors to new mice and hunting areas, and some horrendous puns, such as the Mousoleum - full of zombie mice, mummy mice, etc.

It is a waiting game though. You can only hunt mice every 15 minutes, and no more. It also takes time to achieve a new level of expertise - one week, two, depends on your skill and luck at catching mouses! So, to kill time, hunters loiter in the forums, run competitions to share gold, talk, help each other out, make friends to help them hunt more often, set up FB groups, and much more. The community that this has built is really quite staggering.

MH was launched in March/April this year, and after a mere 4 months, there are 10000+ hunters online at any one time. 39% of the people who run this application log on EVERY day. The forums are very busy, and with the developers encouraging suggestions of improvements and new ideas, you can watch a creative, engaged community at work for the greater good (politicans, civil servants and industry execs - take note. Grassroots activity is not to be sniffed at or ignored).

Additionally, it shows how a real-life community ought to work, (something we see far too little of these days) looking after each other, co-operating, and helping out others in a less fortunate position. I watched a scammer almost torn to pieces in the forums yesterday for ripping someone off for SuperBrie + the ultimate cheese. He returned it with a huge apology! There's people power /justice for you.

The inclusion of games within social networks is nothing new, but building a devastatingly simple yet addictive game which attracts a wide variety of different people, from around the world, who play as much for the social engagement as for the game itself, signals to me the rise of a new breed of app, and in this case, it could well be a killer. And not just of mice!

MH 2.0 is about to be launched, and it will be interesting to see whether anyone has seen the value of MH and decided to JV with Hitgrab. For instance adding video conferencing tools within it to allow hunters to communicate between their Hunt group - total strangers who help you hunt, who then become friends. (This time last week, I knew no-one in Louisiana but now I am concerned about several strangers and their families because of Gustav). Not just that, but there are Facebook groups dedicated to MH - for instance, the Non Violent Removal of Mice Charity (NVMRC), who want less deathly mousetraps, and others.

Tie in a Youtube application to MH and people will upload animations of mice (the graphics are superb, yet simple), vlogs and much more. Add video based clues to the game, and you start to see how 10k users at any time could start to munch through bandwidth. Especially if groups of them are also playing virtual musical chairs around their webcams to win 5000 gold pieces on the forums.

I think MH has the potential to be one of the first of a breed of online social networking games with mass appeal; that don't rely on gaming ability or obsession to get anywhere; and that need bandwidth thrown at the community of users. However, if the developers get ahead of the ability of their users to connect and engage, it will lose some of its appeal, as it will fragment the existing community between haves and have nots (just like the real world then!)

But it is precisely this type of app that highlights the need for decent bandwidth in the first mile. And underscores the failure by many to understand that users need bandwidth for fun, interactive stuff more than anything, whether that is retail therapy, uploading wedding videos, or playing games. How many e-gov websites can boast 10,000 simultaneous users? We (the consumers) really are not that interested in government stuff, however important politics may be in our daily lives, it is nowhere near as important as being part of an enthusiastic community of fellow mousehunters or sharing our funny clips from our mobile phones!

We vote for people to run the country so we don't need to worry about it; we expect the services our taxes pay for to work for us (ditto the civil service); and we want our government to protect us from self-serving commercial interests who otherwise dictate what we can and cannot do. And not just online. And then, we can do the interesting stuff that makes us the people we are.

If MH becomes the success it has the potential to achieve, we will see add-ons appearing with third parties benefiting from its success; a cross-app economy where players trade prizes from other apps for cheese etc (this is already happening); cheese traded for hard cash (as has been seen with gold farming in Second Life and many of the MMPOGs); and an increase in bandwidth usage by its players. Take note, you read it here first!

(Whilst writing this, courtesy of the help of my hunt group, which inclues an Open University lecturer, a marine biologist, and who knows what other occupations, I have caught a 1lb 3oz Bionic Mouse and several smaller brown and white mice - long live the King!)

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