When I was still trying to find my writing voice prior to this blog, I reviewed comic books; a ton of them. Sometimes it seemed like I just hammered away at my keyboard, filled with nerd rage. Occasionally, genuine criticism seeped out of my posts. Point being, I’m not a literary savant by any stretch. I never took my work as “serious” literary criticism. Instead, I just spoke to how the material resonated to me.
God bless the readers of those posts at Comics Bulletin.
Somehow, I forgot that voice when I took a stab at reviewing Nir Eyal’s book Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products. It was an amazing read that I felt validated and encouraged a lot of what my teams are working towards every day. Thankfully, I put the thoughts of critique aside and remembered my lane: connection.
There are, most likely, thousands of published materials on the market telling us how to make better stuff these days. From Seth Godin’s blog, Steve Krug’s book, Product Hunt’s community, and everything in between, product development is it’s own market. For good reason, mind you. It’s easier than ever to put an idea out there for validation. This power brings home the idea that you can’t just have an idea, you must cultivate it well if it is to be successful.
Eyal, along with Ryan Hoover, set out do to exactly that. His version of user engagement is called Hook Model; creating a feedback loop of triggers, actions, rewards and investments. Each section not only details each section each phase of establishing habits for your potential customers, but specific action items you can take to the office the very next day. That’s why each chapter ends with a section called “do this now”.
The TechCrunch, Forbes, and Psychology Today writer doesn’t just show readers a playbook to success, though. The beauty of Hooked isn’t just in the teaching, case studies and actionable steps for satisfied users. Eyal teaches to be careful with these tools. This is not something implicit, or quotable for that matter, but the sense I got throughout is “just because you can hook users, doesn’t mean you should.”
No example shines brighter than Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker. Incensed by the popularity of the Facebook game Farmville, Bogost created an app where users did nothing more than click on virtual cows to hear a satisfying “moo”. The developer thought everyone would be in on the joke, realizing the same game mechanics used in the popular Zynga game were making them click bovines incessantly. Instead, usage skyrocketed and he was forced to shut it down. The “Cowpocalypse”, as he called it, signaled something Mr. Bogost and others have realized about this generation of users:
Be careful about getting users hooked.
As I read through the various examples of successful products, you get the sense that some of this wasn’t necessarily a good thing for it’s users. I say this right before I give the folks at Candy Crush more money, because I can finish this level with five more moves. We all know what it’s like to be hooked with various apps, retail stores, or product category. We don’t know why we need more all the time, we just go get it.
The information not only makes me question the intent of projects I’m working on currently, but I want to spread the word of this intent to all my friends. Not as a product developer and brand manager, but as a consumer as well.
Granted, to have the kind of success laid out in Hooked is something to be admired. It’s easy to hate on Farmville after the fact, but at the time people were dying to work for Zynga because they were going to revolutionize gaming. Which, for the most part, they did. It just wasn’t sustained over the long term. I feel that is an important distinction to make, and thus be reminded that with these powers comes great responsibility.
Curious to know what others have thought of this book. The short read stirs the mind with ability and responsibility. Please go support this effort from Eyal. You may need to hire him afterwards, though.