Month / February 2012

NOTE: This post originally appeared in Techcrunch

Here’s the gist:

  • In the age of infinite online distractions, successfulweb businesses must generate new user habits to stay relevant.
  • The strength of a web company’s user habits willincreasingly equate to its economic value.
  • Forming strong user habits is more importantthan viral growth.
  • The Curated Web will run on habits.

Face it; you’re hooked. It’s your uncontrollable urge to check for email notifications on your phone. It’s your compulsion to visit Facebook or Twitter for just a few minutes, but somehow find yourself still scrolling after an hour. It’s the fact that if I recommended a book to purchase, your mind would flash “Amazon” like a gaudy neon sign. If habits are defined as repeated and automatic behaviors, then technology has wired your brain so you behave exactly the way it wants you to.
In an online world of ever-increasing distractions, habits matter. In fact, the economic value of web businesses increasingly depends on the strength of the habitual behavior of their users. These habits ultimately will be a deciding factor in what separates startup winners and losers.

Recently, my mom came for a visit.  She read my blog and discovered her son has a crazy habit of running barefoot.  After some convincing, she begrudgingly accepted my rationale, especially after I showed her that a nice Jewish professor at Harvard said it’s ok.

But on one morning, as I was about to walk out the door, my mom stopped me with a tight grab to the arm reminiscent of my childhood.  “It’s bad enough you run outside with bare feet but you look ridiculous running with these cheap shmatte gloves.”  She always had an eye for spotting the quality of apparel and she correctly identified my Wal-Mart bargain bin gloves, which I bought for $2 per dozen.

“Why are you wearing these things?” she exclaimed.  “You must be cold!  Let me get you a nice pair of warmer gloves. You’re cold, right?  Is that the reason?”

Note: I’m proud to have co-authored this post with my good friend Charles Wang.  Charles is a co-founder of LUMOback, a former classmate, and an accomplished psychiatrist.  He brings a great perspective to the art of Behavior Engineering.

Here’s the gist:

  • Forming a new habit requires a unique set of techniques.
  • Training to become an expert has a completely different methodology than becoming an amateur.
  • Using the wrong technique will doom your good intentions.

Today’s top selling books are about how to acquire world-class skill. Daniel Coyle’s, The Talent Code looks at how deliberate practice is required to achieve greatness.  Joshua Foer shows us how we must smash past performance plateaus to be any good.  Worse, Tim Ferris’s 4-Hour series is doing for hipsters what crash diets do for teenage girls, making promises of quick transformations.

NOTE: This post originally appeared in Techcrunch. (Photo credits)

Reading Leena Rao’s recent article on Techcrunch about the personalization revolution, you get the sense that the tech world is waiting for a bus that isn’t coming. Rao quotes well-known industry experts and luminaries describing what needs to happen for e-commerce to finally realize the promise of personalized shopping, a future where online retailers predict what you’ll want to buy before you know yourself.

Ironically, Rao and her pundits are missing the zooming race car that’s speeding by them as they wait for the personalization bus to arrive. That racecar is Pinterest and the new breed of startups marking the beginning of what I call the “Curated Web.”

Note: This article was first published in Forbes

Executive Summary:

  • Pinterest is onto something big, but few know its obvious secret.
  • The company is succeeding because of its focus on reducing users’ cognitive load.
  • Pinterest brilliantly aligns its user experience with its business objectives of getting users to consume, create and share content.
  • Pinterest will soon have the richest consumer purchase intent data ever assembled.

Last week, I sat down for drinks with a few friends.  “Have you heard of this Pinterest website?” said Jonathan, “My wife is totally addicted.” “Yes! Molly is hooked too,” said Ben, “She even has her grandmother into it, who, by the way, still can’t figure out Facebook.”  “What’s Pinterest?” said Colin, the unmarried engineer.

My friends, the very definition of tech-savvy, couldn’t understand Pinterest’s astounding success.  For one, the idea of capturing photos on a virtual wall is nothing new.  The Facebook newsfeed is 5 years old and searching for pretty pictures on Google Images is ancient.