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Make your users do the work< ” is the not very people-centred title of a guest piece by Nir Eyal on Techcrunch.

He argues that putting users to work is critical in creating products people love, and he has a point.

Some excerpts:

“Several studies have shown that expending effort on a task seems to commit us to it. For example, when buying a lottery ticket, players are able to either choose their own numbers or play a set of digits generated randomly. Certainly, choosing either option has no effect on the odds of winning. Traditional thinking would predict that the less effortful path would be the one users prefer.

However, the opposite is true. Despite the considerable effort required to pick the lottery numbers, a process reminiscent of filling out multiple choice questions on the S.A.T., players who choose their own numbers play more. This phenomenon isn’t just about a skewed perception of luck. According to a classic study by Ellen Langler, even when players are explicitly told their chances of winning, they choose to trade worse odds for the ability to play the numbers they spent the time and effort picking.”

“Where user investment really becomes valuable is when stored value meets a network effect. Facebook and Pinterest, both services which were useful as stored value products, exploded in use when the power of the network effect took hold. Both are habit-forming products, which bring large numbers of users back unprompted. The combination of stored value and a network effect, along with continual investment from users who regularly add content, has created a strong pull for a large percentage of their users.

Habit-forming technologies take hold when a pattern of trigger, action, reward, and investment, creates desire in the user while providing increasing amounts of value. The more users invest in a way of doing things through tiny bits of work, the more valuable the service becomes in their lives and the less they question its use.

Of course, users don’t stay hooked forever. Though these companies have a good ride, the next big thing inevitably comes along and creates a better way to start building user commitment. While the mantra of making the experience easier to use certainly has its place, the rule must be followed with a strategic purpose in mind — namely increasing the value of the service the more people use it.”