Month / March 2012

Note: This post originally appeared in TechCrunch

Here’s the gist:

  • Rather than using conventional feedback loops, companies today are employing a new, stronger habit-forming mechanism to hook users—the desire engine.
  • At the heart of the desire engine is a variable schedule of rewards: a powerful hack that focuses attention, provides pleasure, and infatuates the mind.
  • Our search for variable rewards is about an endless desire for three types of rewards: those of the tribe, the hunt and the self.

In advertising, marketers reinforce a behavior by linking to the promise of reward. “Use our product,” they claim, “and you’ll get laid”; it’s the gist of many product pitches from soap to hamburgers.

But online, feedback loops aren’t cutting it. Users are increasingly inundated with distractions, and companies find they need to hook users quickly if they want to stay in business. Today, companies are using more than feedback loops. They are deploying desire engines.

Here’s the gist:

  • The rising interest in the science of designing behavior has also sprouted dozens of competing, and at times conflicting, methodologies.
  • Though the authors often flaunt their way as the only way, there are distinct use cases for when each method is appropriate.
  • Behavior modification methods fall into four distinct types: amateur, expert, habitué, and addict.
  • Each behavior type requires the use of the appropriate technique to be effective. Using the wrong method leads to frustration and failure.

Everyone suddenly seems interested in messing with your head. GamificationQuantified SelfPersuasive TechnologyNeuromarketing and a host of other techniques offer ways to influence behavior. At the heart of these techniques is a desire to change peoples’ habits so that behavior change becomes permanent.

Note: This post originally appeared in Techcrunch. I’m proud to have co-authored this post with Katy Fike, PhD.  Dr. Fike is a gerontologist, systems engineer and Partner at Innovate50, a consulting firm helping companies create products and services for the 50+ market

As web watchers, entrepreneurs, and investors search for the next big thing, they’d be wise to focus on innovations that can be easily adopted by technology novices. A recent string of companies, including Groupon and Pinterest, have found success outside the early-adopter digerati by building products simple enough to be used by just about anyone. Designing with tech novices in mind can mean the difference between staying niche and going mainstream. Here are three principles for designing software for people Silicon Valley too often disparagingly calls “normals.”

Type the name of almost any successful consumer web company into your search bar and add the word “addict” after it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Try “Facebook addict” or “Twitter addict” or even “Pinterest addict” and you’ll soon get a slew of results from hooked users and observers deriding the narcotic-like properties of these web sites. How is it that these companies, producing little more than bits of code displayed on a screen, can seemingly control users’ minds? Why are these sites so addictive and what does their power mean for the future of the web?

We’re on the precipice of a new era of the web. As infinite distractions compete for our attention, companies are learning to master new tactics to stay relevant in users’ minds and lives. Today, just amassing millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits they create. But as some companies are just waking up to this new reality, others are already cashing in.