The Duck of Minerva

Confessions of a Scrabulous Addict Afficionado

29 July 2008

The big news story of the day seems to be the “demise” of Scrabulous. “Scrabulous is dead,” claims Slashdot. “Scrabulous No More,” begins the equivalent post at Digital Savant.

Well no, Scrabulous is not dead (not yet anyway), no matter how many laments may appear on Facebook status messages. You can still play Scrabulous, for pity’s sake, just not on Facebook. Instead, you must create an account on the regular Scrabulous site, and play there. (Or, try out Facebook’s new Hasbro-owned application, boringly named “Scrabble.”)

While Facebook users are bemoaning the loss of a popular application, some commentators are claiming this could be a good thing. Dan Drezner‘s Facebook status message today read “Daniel Drezner is confident that labor productivity will boom and the economy will rebound with the suspension of the Scrabulous feature.” His sentiment is echoed by Floyd Sklaver at Justout and Helen Popkin at MSNBC.

Well, I don’t care what Drezner or anyone else says. Scrabulous on Facebook made me more productive, for three reasons:

1) It was a fun way to keep my brain on its toes when I might otherwise have degenerated into more passive forms of online entertainment, such as watching the Clerks’ Jedi Politics YouTube video clip again, or trying to figure out Where the Hell Matt is on Google Earth.

2) It was also an incentive to take a healthy five-minute break here and there – I vaguely recall that in my old retail days before becoming a professor, employees were actually allowed regular five-minute breaks, and at least one 30-minute break, mandated by law, because this was known to boost productivity and also, just to be a really nice idea.

3) Finally, Scrabulous served a valuable professional networking function, keeping in me in touch periodically with colleagues and friends I too seldom connect with in real-space, or for anything other than work online. Those social relations are the grease in the cogs of intellectual productivity. This is why the National Science Foundation encourages grantees to spend taxpayer money on “synergistic activities” that bring together researchers in social settings – because it knows the best ideas happen when the nerds actually put the books away and sit down over drinks.

After a day of experimentation, I can honestly say, however, that the off-Facebook version will make me less productive – at least if I play by email. In this version of the game, every time your partner makes a move, it will show up in your email inbox insistently, rather than appearing quietly in a secluded corner of Facebook where it waits patiently until you happen to log in and check whose turn it is.

Also, the email version reduces the benefits while increasing the risks. It’s more distracting, so you can afford to play with fewer friends simultaneously without getting addicted. Goodbye social networking! On the other hand, being forced to play regular Scrabulous may help me network doubly well because I’m no longer limited to those friends who are on Facebook, nor must I go through the awkward process of recruiting new friends to Facebook to entice them to a game.

Anyway, as Lawrence Lessig has famously argued, architecture constitutes governance, just as do norms, laws, and markets.Today, Scrabulous did not die; its architecture was modified. How this will ultimately affect the nature of interactions that the game facilitated remains to be seen, but so far I’m adapting, Borg-like, instead of donning black.

So what’s the point of this little tirade? Sorry, I’m not sure I have one and anyway no time to explain, I see I have just received an email from one of my two lucky remaining Scrabulous partners…