The Internet has become a giant hairball of choice-inhibiting noise and the need to make sense of it all has never been more acute.
Just ask high-flying sites like Pinterest, Reddit, and Tumblr. These curated webportals connect millions of people to information they never knew they were looking for.
Some have started monetizing this tremendous flow of traffic and though it’s too early to call winners and losers, their strategy of driving user engagement by creating daily habits is clear. These companies are following a plan implemented by web titans like Amazon and Google and are hoping to yield similar results.
Creating user habits leverages two critical factors that should be considered by every company attempting to build high-engagement products.
Habits are one of the ways the brain learns complex behaviors. In order to allow us to focus our attention on obtaining new insights, neuroscientists believe habitual behaviors are moved to the basal ganglia, an area of the brain associated with actions requiring little or no cognition.
Habits form when the brain takes a shortcut and stops actively deliberating about the decision being made.
The brain quickly learns to codify behaviors that provide a solution to whatever problem it encounters. For example, nail biting is a common behavior, which occurs with little or no thought, typically triggered by the unpleasant feeling of stress.
The biter associates the satisfaction of nail chomping with the temporary relief it provides. As any habitual nail bitter knows, the conditioned response is extremely difficult to break.
Like nail biting, many of the decisions we make in our daily lives are made simply because that’s the way we’ve found satisfaction in the past. The brain automatically deduces that if the decision was a good one yesterday, then it’s a safe bet again today.
In a recent studyat the University College London, researchers followed participants as they attempted to form a habit of flossing their teeth. As one of its findings, the study concluded that the more frequently the new behavior occurred, the stronger the habit. Like flossing, frequent engagement with a web site or app increases the likelihood of forming new habits.
Google search provides an example of a service built upon a frequent behavior creating users habits. If you’re skeptical that Google is habit-forming, just try using Bing. In a head-to-head comparison of the efficacy of an incognitosearch, the products are nearly identical.
Even if the geniuses at Google have in fact perfected a faster algorithm, the time saved is imperceptible to everyone but robots and Mister Spock. Milliseconds matter, but they don’t hook users.
Instead, habits are what keep users loyal. If a user is familiar with the Google interface, switching to Bing requires cognitive effort. Though many aspects or Bing are identical to Google, even a slight change in pixel placement forces the would-be convert to learn something new. Adapting to the differences in the Bing interface is what actually slows the user down and makes Bing feel inferior.
Internet searches occur so frequently that Google is able to cement its tool as the one
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