The design appears to be mostly quite straightforward – it’s a Hot or Not style ranking game. You are given two possible choices and are asked to vote for one. People’s choices are instantly tallied and shown alongside the profile of the submitters. Those who create competitions can easily invite others to vote with basic social network integration.
Setting aside the huge spelling error on the home page and some quirks with the site on the iPad, Top That appears to be an early MVP (Minimum Viable Product) concept targeted at high killer-achiever users. Ostensibly, the site activates their desire to want to beat others, and express their opinions. It even has a “Trash Talk” column on each page where you can engage others in…um…”constructive dialogue”.
Even though it’s early days for Top That, their chosen concept and execution has serious design challenges. As I often point out in my workshops (of which a few open slots remain in 2012), the number of achiever/killer players is actually quite small. Most people are socializers and want fun, non-confrontational interactions with others. Moreover, large groups of killers are problematic because they tend to turn off other kinds of players – so if you design to attract them, you will quickly lose socializers, explorers and even some achievers. Either way, you typically have a major gender imbalance (guys tend to prefer these kinds of interactions, women less so).
The other issue for a site like this is that it’s very open ended – anyone can create a challenge about anything as long as it can be expressed in “choose this or that”. With such an open ended design, it’s often hard to get sustained engagement – people don’t know what you want them to do. It’s tempting to want to leave it open and see what the market wants to do, but it’s usually better to provide a constraint or two. For example, what kinds of topics are acceptable (food! cats!), who can post vs rate (experts vs novices), themed days/weeks (shark week! cat week!), etc.
Given their focus on competition, I suspect that thematic content will be least of Top That’s concerns. The Frat Boy demographic that is likely to be attracted to this experience will very quickly fill the site with pics of cute girls, and it will (d)evolve into a Hot or Not competitor. In order to play in that space (which still has lots of opportunity, IMHO), TT will need to get some features on deck and think about viral, social interactions. These include brackets (where top ranked items bubble to the top), a long-term competitive arc (e.g. fantasy sports style) and even a potential emphasis on celebrity. There are a wide range of models that can be used to improve the experience and give it legs.
The bottom line is that this is a tough demographic and category to dominate. With the right gamification design (and a highly lean/agile approach), Top That could iterate and find an set of interactions with scale and virality – but first they need to think about who their target really is and what kinds of interactions appeal to them. Tamping down the killer behavior here will be essential for mass market appeal, but very challenging, given that competition is the heart of their concept.
It’s no easy task, but if they’re looking for inspiration, there are few better places than a beachfront party town to find it.