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The Killer Combo: When Stored Value Meets a Network Effect


The belief that products should always be as easy to use as possible is a sacred cow of the tech world. The rise of design thinking, coinciding with beautiful new products like the iPhone, has led some to conclude that creating slick interfaces is a hallmark of great design. But, like all attempts to create absolute rules about how we should interact with technology, the law that design should always decrease the amount of effort users expend doesn’t always hold true. In fact, putting users to work is critical in creating products people love. This will be referred to as “user investment”, or “investment”.

Several studieshave 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.

Examples of how escalations of commitmentmakes our brain do funny things abound. Its power makes some people play video games until they keel over and die. It’s used to influence people to give more to charity. It has even been used to coerce prisoners of war to switch allegiances. Commitment is powerful stuff and it plays an important role in the things we do, the products we buy, and our perception of who we are.

Totally Committed

The last step of the Hook Model, a framework I developed to help ex

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