"It's funny, when I first started thinking about the concept for people, I thought about negative feedback: 'Somebody hasn't done as well as they would like to.' But people really want good feedback, right? We're programmed to want to get the most out of life. So the question is, what if you could introduce the same sense of social reward into the way we interact with other people? What if you could give people the good feedback about themselves that they want without creating any negative situations for them?"

We can do it.

When we create social feedback in context, the system basically finds the level of engagement that is appropriate. Typically that level of engagement depends on how well we do with our other users. Basically, we ask people to do one task, such as saying, "What photos did you take during your holiday last week?" Then we provide them with some feedback such as a numerical score—a positive feedback, even—about their performance. And if they're not very good at the task, we offer them better feedback, for example a percentage point up or down, on their overall score. It's a non-punitive feedback system where you get a higher response if you do well than you get if you don't do well. It reinforces the fact that you're doing a good job and that you're connected to your audience, not to punish them or point out a wrong behavior.

We started with simple community service projects like telling the names of loved ones who've died or giving information about our houses at open houses. People responded very positively. They used to ask, "Please send me more pages of information," or send me photos of their new home or paint a fence. Then we thought, you know what? Social feedback can also work for people who don't do community service projects. That's when we introduced more invasive behaviors such as a rating of a person's physical attractiveness or a user's social values. Based on the user's characteristics, we give them negative feedback. Or, even worse, we give them negative feedback to make them work harder. Now that people would definitely earn less money, they get very irate. "What is this?" "Why are you doing it? Get off my back." And we don't give them the chance to respond because we don't want to talk about negative feedback, or they don't want to say it back. So to us, this kind of feedback is extremely useful because it serves as a non-punitive way of building social participation.

So why does it work? One reason that people respond so well to social feedback is that they also want to get more out of life. If they don't have a certain amount of appreciation for the positive things in their life, they feel left out. And if they get this social score, they start giving us, and to each other, this sense of recognition that we want.

The way I look at it, this is a little like peer pressure. If you keep doing what you're doing for too long, it'll become clear to you that you're doing less well than you need to be, but it's not about you. You know, you're only going to become a loser if you let yourself become that. So social feedback is a form of peer pressure. People just need to be encouraged. It's kind of self-monitoring.

One of the reasons that people are addicted to social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter is that it's sort of like an addictive, fun game. People don't need to succeed very often.

Actually, I would think that people succeed a lot more when you give them the sense of achievement. The psychological reward is that once you start giving them all this positive feedback, you will slowly and gradually get them to attain more of the objectives that they have set for themselves.