Today, Yahoo! Brickhouse launched BravoNation, the newest release from their San Francisco-based incubator program. Gordon Luk, the leader of the project and my fellow Upcoming founder, graciously offered to give me an exclusive preview of the launch.
BravoNation is an experimental platform for people to send virtual awards and achievements to their friends and family, and a robust set of APIs for developers to build achievements into their own software. It reminds me of a web-native equivalent of XBox Live’s achievement system, abstracted to work with any online community.
From its genesis as a Hack Day project to my departure from Yahoo! last month, I was a close observer of this project and I’m thrilled to be the first to write about it publicly. Gordon gave me access to the “Rough Draft” release of the site this morning, and I’ve included my screenshot-heavy tour below.
Inspired by the gaming panels from SXSW Interactive earlier this year, Gordon wrote a series of blog entries drawing parallels between multiplayer gaming and Web 2.0 communities. In particular, his three-part series on avatars discussed different achievement-like systems in gaming, on the web, and the crossover between them.
At the next Yahoo’s internal Hack Day, he developed an early concept called “World of Y!Craft,” a set of APIs that would let any Yahoo! property become more game-like. As an example, the Flickr staff could automatically give out a “100 Favorited Photos” or “#1 Most Interesting” trophy when a user reached certain milestones. Or the Flickr community, already very comfortable giving out homemade awards, could design and give out their own trophies.
After presenting World of Y!Craft, Gordon was approached by Yahoo!’s Chief Product Officer Ash Patel, who asked if he’d be interested in pursuing the idea at Brickhouse. Over the next four months, Gordon expanded the scope of the project beyond Yahoo! to a platform designed for the entire web. While still working part-time on Upcoming, he led a team of three (Ernie “Little Yellow Different” Hsiung, Kevin “OK/Cancel” Cheng, and Niki Bobb) to develop the new property.
Those Medaling Kids
For most users, their introduction into the site will likely be an email from a friend, family, or community website inviting them to pick up their “Bravo” — BravoNation’s term for awards. Clicking the link displays a cute envelope, where you can drag out a little personalized card with the Bravo image.
I was surprised that I wasn’t forced to create a Yahoo! account to receive my award, instead just identifying me my waxy.org email address. Gordon confirmed that Yahoo! accounts aren’t required to receive Bravos or collect them into a Bravo case. Creating or sending new Bravos, however, requires a BravoNation account and Yahoo! ID (currently invitation-only). Here’s an example of my BravoNation homepage after receiving a few Bravos, with one in the upper-right waiting to be picked up.
After accepting, Bravos can be viewed, favorited, and commented on by the BravoNation community. One nice touch: when accepting a Bravo, users are prompted to respond with an emoticon which then shows up as a comment on the Bravo page.
All of your Bravos are then collected in your Bravo Case, which can then be removed or rearranged. (Syndication options are still forthcoming, though the team showed me a gorgeous Flash widget that turns your trophies into a browsable photo book.)
Sending Bravos to your friends is drop-dead easy. Either select from several stock illustrations and customize the copy or create your own using a Flash drawing application. BravoNation users get a limited number of “Bravo Bucks” to spend on sending out Bravos, which regenerate throughout the day. (This seems to be mostly an abuse measure.)
The award creator’s drawing tools are simple, but includes a real-time group chat where you can hang out with others working on their awards at the same time. The ability to see everyone else’s in-progress drawings is coming soon, but not in the draft release.
Spelunking the API
Unlike most startups, BravoNation ships with a mature and complete API, including an interactive “API Spelunker” similar to Flickr’s API Explorer to help simulate API calls against the live database.
Unlike BravoNation users, developers can create original Bravos from uploaded images and batch-award them to community members using a comma-separated list in a web form or programmatically via the API. Third-party developers don’t need to worry about their own users creating Yahoo IDs.
The BravoNation website is fun, but I think more than anything, I’m interested to see how the API is used. I’m going to keep an eye on the Top Applications page to see how independent communities decide to implement this as an incentive system. It seems like a natural fit for any blog software’s commenting systems or discussion forum.
Want to take a look at BravoNation for yourself? I’ll give out invites and a “Beta Whore” award to the first 50 people or so that leave a comment with your email address. (And don’t forget to feature f*ck the team after you’ve tried it.)