Tag / user experience

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Max Ogles. Max is an editor for NirAndFar.com and heads marketing for CoachAlba.com, a mobile health startup. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog at MaxOgles.com.

Screenshot 2014-05-14 11.39.14Weight gain happens pound by pound, over many years, and that’s how Dave Haynes found himself sixty pounds away from a healthy BMI. In his career, Dave was immersed in the startup world; he helped start Soundcloud, which allows anyone to share and produce music and has over 10 million users. So when he ultimately resolved to reverse this disturbing weight trend, he naturally looked to technology for the solution; he downloaded the popular fitness apps and bought an Internet-connected Withings scale. But could these online apps help him achieve real-life behavior change?

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Max Ogles. Max is an editor for NirAndFar.com and heads marketing for CoachAlba.com, a mobile health startup. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog at MaxOgles.com.

rehabLast year, The Huffington Post published some fascinating statistics about the U.S. prison population. The headline for the article blared, “America Has More Prisoners Than High School Teachers.” It’s no secret that the United States has a high rate of incarceration, not to mention a recidivism rate of nearly 60% for serious criminals.

These stark facts put into perspective the incredible work of the Delancey Street Foundation, a drug and rehabilitation center based in San Francisco. Delancey Street accepts the most hardened criminals and drug addicts; most have multiple felony convictions. But despite the difficulty associated with overcoming a criminal past, over 14,000 Delancey residents have returned to society as productive citizens. Perhaps Delancey’s most impressive accomplishment is the fact that over 90% of its graduates never return to prison.

Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Stephen Wendel, Principal Scientist at HelloWallet and the author of Designing for Behavior Change. Steve’s new book is about how to apply behavioral economics to product development. Follow him on twitter @sawendel.

brainIt can be extraordinarily difficult to stop habits head-on. Brain damage, surgery, even Alzheimer’s disease and dementia sometimes fail to stop them.[1] But why are they so difficult to change? First, it’s because habits are automatic, and not conscious. The conscious part of our minds, the part that would seek to remove habits, is only vaguely aware of their execution;[2] we often don’t notice habits when they occur and we don’t remember doing them afterwards. Across dozens of studies on behavior change interventions, researchers have found that the conscious mind’s sincere, concerted intention to change behavior has little relationship to actual change in behavior.[3]

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, user experience designer Aaron Wilson, discusses a deep flaw of our digital devices and makes an audacious prediction about the future of consumer technology. Follow Aaron on Twitter @aarowilso.

No one wants to make a mistake like the one Clifford Stoll made in 1996. In the February issue of Newsweek Magazine, his now infamous article carried the headline, “The Internet? Bah!

An “online database,” Stoll wrote, will never replace your daily newspaper. To futurists like Nicholas Negroponte who predicted that one day we’d buy books and newspapers “straight over the Internet,” Stoll responded flippantly, “Uh, sure.”

Clifford Stoll is not a stupid man. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy, was a system administrator at Berkeley Lab, and is considered by some to be the father of digital forensics.

Nir’s Note: An edited version of this essay appeared in The Atlantic. Below is my original.
Stairway to Heaven

It’s not often an app has the power to keep someone out of a strip club. But according to Bobby Gruenewald, CEO of YouVersion, that’s exactly what his technology did. Gruenewald says a user of his app walked into a business of ill repute when suddenly, out of the heavens, he received a notification on his phone. “God’s trying to tell me something!,” Gruenewald recalled the user saying, “I just walked into a strip club — and man — the Bible just texted me!”

YouVersion recently announced its app hit a monumental milestone — placing it among a rare strata of technology companies. The app, simply called “Bible,” is now on more than 100 million devices and growing. Gruenewald says a new install occurs every 1.3 seconds.

5318665531_b62722f817Imagine walking into a busy mall when someone approaches you with an open hand. “Would you have some coins to take the bus, please?” he asks. But in this case, the person is not a panhandler. The beggar is a PhD.

As part of a French study, researchers wanted to know if they could influence how much money people handed to a total stranger using just a few specially encoded words. They discovered a technique so simple and effective it doubled the amount people gave.

The turn of phrase has been shown to not only increase how much bus fare people give, but was also effective in boosting charitable donations and participation in voluntary surveys. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 42 studies involving over 22,000 participants concluded that these few words, placed at the end of a request, are a highly-effective way to gain compliance, doubling the likelihood of people saying “yes.”

2924868770_3caa81a1fdWe are a species that depend on one another. Scientists theorize humans have specially adapted neurons that help us feel what others feel, providing evidence that we survive through our empathy for others. We’re meant to be part of a tribe and our brains seek out rewards that make us feel accepted, important, attractive, and included.

Many of our institutions and industries are built around this need for social reinforcement. From civic and religious groups to spectator sports, the need to feel social connectedness informs our values and drives much of how we spend our time. Communication technology in particular has given rise to a long history of companies that have provided better ways of delivering what I call, “rewards of the tribe.”

A reader recently asked me a pointed question: “I’ve read your work on creating user habits. It’s all well and good for getting people to do things, like using an app on their iPhone, but I’ve got a bigger problem. How do I get people to do things they don’t want to do?” Taken aback by the directness and potentially immoral implications of his question, my gut reaction was to say, “You can’t and shouldn’t!” To which his response was, “I have to; it’s my job.”

This gentleman, who asked that I not disclose his name, is the corporate equivalent of the guy the mob sends to break kneecaps if a worker doesn’t do as they’re told. For the past decade, he has run the same methodical process of cajoling, and at times threatening, people to do things they don’t want to do. “It’s really unfair and mean. I know it is,” he said. “But people have to comply or else people get hurt.”

Note: I’m pleased to have co-authored this post with Sangeet Paul Choudary, who analyzes business models for network businesses at Platformed.info. Follow Sangeet on Twitter at @sanguit.

If there is one altar at which Silicon Valley worships, it is the shrine of the holy network effect. Its mystical powers pluck lone startups from obscurity and elevate them to fame and fortune. The list of anointed ones includes nearly every technology success story of the past 15 years. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, eBay, and PayPal, have each soared to multi-billion-dollar valuations on the supreme power of the network effect.

But today, the power of the network effect is fading, at least in its current incarnation. Traditionally defined as a system where each new user on the network increases the value of the service for all others, a network effect often creates a winner-takes-all dynamic, ordaining one dominant company above the rest. Moreover, these companies often wield monopoly-like powers over their industries.

We are caught in an endless cycle of messaging hell and the pattern is always the same. First, a new communication system is born — take email or Facebook, for example. Ease-of-use helps the product gain wide adoption and reach a critical mass of users. And then things turn ugly.

Some crafty entrepreneur figures out how to exploit the system and starts building a business around it. He reaches millions of people and opens the floodgates to countless others who seek to emulate his methods. Inevitably, the messaging channel is deluged with crap, clogging the pipes of what was once an efficient mode of communication — again, email or Facebook.

Notification Noise

The latest messaging onslaught is hitting the notification systems on our smartphones. Those little red badges hovering over our app icons and urgent graphics along the top of our screens incessantly remind us of some task that needs doing. They crowd out real priorities with bits of tiny triviality. Notification spam has many up in arms, but the flood of distractions continues.