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1-Page PDF Summary of Hooked

Modern technology has us addicted to its use. While you might be aware that you’re addicted to your phone or favorite apps, you might not know exactly how you got addicted. It just happened without your noticing it.

Hooked provides a useful framework on how tech products build lasting habits in their users. Understanding this is useful for product designers and users alike. The core of the Hooked model is the 4-step feedback loop: Trigger, Action, Reward, and Investment.

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Action

To initiate action in a habit, doing must be easier than thinking. An action has three requirements:

  • Sufficient motivation
  • Sufficient ability
  • A trigger to activate the behavior

Make the process to use your product as simple as possible. Lay out the steps the customer takes to get the job done. Then remove steps until you reach the simplest possible process.

Identify which factor is most impeding your users. Is the mental effort needed to use your product too high? Is the user in a social context where the behavior is inappropriate? Is the behavior so different from normal routine that it’s offputting?

Variable Reward

To build a habit, your product must actually solve the user’s problem so that the user depends on your product as a reliable solution. The benefit the user receives is the reward.

Variable rewards are more effective than fixed rewards. Fixed rewards don’t change at all, delivering the same reward at unchanging intervals. Variable rewards are more like slot machines, delivering unknown amounts at an unknown frequency. Unpredictable reward sizes and novelty spike dopamine levels, which in turn strengthen the development of the habit. Imagine a slot machine that merely paid you $0.99 every time you wagered $1.00 - how fun would that be?

There are three types of variable rewards:

  • Rewards of the Tribe
    • We generally want to feel accepted, attractive important, and included. When other people give us social validation, this is a powerful reward.
  • Rewards of the Hunt
    • Before inventing tools, humans hunted animals through persistence hunting, out-enduring larger animals that couldn’t effectively cool themselves over hours of chase.
    • This selected for the dogged determination to acquire rewards that aid our survival, including food, cash, and information. We are even conditioned to enjoy the pursuit itself, on top of the material rewards.
  • Rewards of the Self
    • We seek mastery and completion. We are driven to conquer obstacles and complete obstacles, becoming more capable than we were before.

Investment

The more effort we put into something, the more we value it, and the more likely we are to return. Thus, to encourage a user to return and build a habit, prompt them to put something of value into the system so that they value the app more highly and pave the way for longer-term rewards.

Often the user’s investment increases the value of future rewards, building a virtuous cycle of usage that becomes ever more valuable.

Here are examples of types of user investments, with explanations of how they improve future rewards and enable triggers:

  • Content Curation: when users curate content they like, the product can surface more content the user is likely to enjoy through customization.
  • Data: when users contribute personal data, the product can issue useful recommendations by analyzing the data.
  • Social Connections: when a user connects to other users, the contributions of other users provide more value and are compelling triggers to return.
  • Reputation: when users build reputations on a site, their influence increases, and their desire to leave decreases.

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PDF Summary Introduction

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*   In contrast, variable rewards prompt more intense dopamine hits and push the user to desire the next hit.
  1. In completing the action, the user invests in the product, improving her future experience and increasing the likelihood of completing another loop in the future.
    • Investments include inviting friends, storing data, building a reputation, and learning to use features.

One step of the loop essentially forms one user session. The user returns when prompted by a trigger (external or internal). Over time, the user associates her problem with the solution, and whenever the problem appears, she will automatically seek the solution out of habit.

We’ll be breaking down each of the steps in a chapter.

PDF Summary Chapter 1: Why Habits are Powerful

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Habits are more likely to be established when the action is more frequent and when the perceived utility is higher. Google quickly became a habit since searches happen on a daily basis, and its search results were much more useful than competing search engines.

For infrequent actions to become habit, the user must perceive a high degree of utility. This applies to purchasing items and large transactions.

  • To provide more utility to the user, retailers like Amazon show ads for direct competitors, sometimes with cheaper prices than what Amazon has. While this might seem short-sighted (the user can buy with the competitor), the long-term game Amazon is playing is to associate itself with solving the problem of shopping. Users build loyalty to Amazon for being the place to start shopping. Other marketplaces like Kayak and vendors like Progressive Insurance have used this strategy with positive results.

Some behaviors never become habits because they don’t occur frequently enough - you don’t really have a house-buying habit if you buy a new house every 10 years.

**Is it better for your product to be a painkiller (solving an obvious pain point) or a vitamin...

PDF Summary Chapter 2: Trigger

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To build a habit, you need to solve a user’s pain so that the user associates your product with relief.

The needs that users seek to solve are often timeless and universal. Said Ev Williams of Twitter, “We often think the Internet enables you to do new things - but people just want to do the same things they’ve always done.”

To make the user’s pain feel real, build a persona of user problems. This takes the form of a specific person of a certain demographic who feels and behaves a certain way. (e.g. “Mary is a stay-at-home mother in Wisconsin who doesn’t have time to feed her 3 kids after work.”) This persona provides a rallying force for the entire team to do the right things to solve the problem.

To discover the root problem, ask “Why?” as many times as it takes to get to an emotion. Example for professional email:

  • Julie uses her email for work.
  • Why? She wants to send and receive messages.
  • Why? She wants to exchange information.
  • Why does she want to exchange information? Information lets her do her job better.
  • Why does she want to do her job better? She wants to get good reviews and a promotion.
  • Why does she want this? **She fears that...

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PDF Summary Chapter 3: Action

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  • In content generation, consider how the web was largely read-only, consisting of professional media companies.
  • Then the development of Blogger and Xanga let amateur writers publish easily, without knowledge of content management systems or servers and without going through a traditional media company.
  • Then with the advent of easy publishing tools like Twitter and Pinterest, the friction to write and create new media shrank even further.

Though critics once decried Twitter’s 140-character limitation, what they missed was how this constraint lowered the barrier for participation, prompting many more to engage. (Shortform note: similarly, Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging lowers the barrier for messaging, compared to a permanent high-quality medium like Instagram.)

Said Ev Williams of Twitter, “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time...identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”

How to Simplify Your Action

Behavioral scientist B. J. Fogg describes six factors that influence a task’s difficulty:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Physical effort
  • Mental effort
  • Social deviance
  • Non-routine - “how...

PDF Summary Chapter 4: Variable Reward

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  • Rewards of the Tribe
    • We generally want to feel accepted, attractive important, and included. When other people give us social validation, this is a powerful reward.
    • Seeing others get rewards also works on us. Witnessing someone being rewarded for a particular action promotes that action within ourselves. (For instance, seeing someone get publicly praised for picking up trash will make you more likely to pick up trash yourself.)
      • This works better when the people you observe are more like yourself or are more experienced role models.
    • On Facebook, people clicking Like on your posts offers powerful social validation. Furthermore, Facebook automatically adjusts your content to what you engage with most, which may tend to be people who behave and look most like you.
  • Rewards of the Hunt
    • Before inventing tools, humans hunted animals through persistence hunting, out-enduring larger animals that couldn’t effectively cool themselves over hours of chase.
    • This selected for the dogged determination to acquire rewards that aid our survival, including food, cash, and information. We are even conditioned to enjoy the...

PDF Summary Chapter 5: Investment

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Even better, the user’s investment allows for personalized external triggers based on the user’s past behavior.

How to Build User Investments

Here are examples of the types of user investments, with explanations of how they improve future rewards and enable triggers:

Content Curation

The idea: when users curate content they like, the product can surface more content the user is likely to enjoy through customization.

  • In iTunes and Spotify, users add songs to their collection. The services learn the users’ preferences and surface more music they’ll like. Introduction of new music provides triggers for users to return.
  • In Facebook, people’s digital lives are largely catalogued in the timeline - photos, videos, status updates, articles shared, friends’ content liked. Facebook learns the user’s preferences and surfaces content that encourages more engagement. New social content is a compelling trigger to return.

Data

The idea: when users contribute personal data, the product can issue useful recommendations by analyzing the data.

  • In LinkedIn, users offer their own personal employment data as a virtual resume. Adding more details increases...

PDF Summary Chapter 6: Building Habits Responsibly

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You cannot consider yourself a facilitator unless you’ve experienced the problem yourself.

Because you have the problem yourself, you know the user well, and are often best positioned to solve the user’s problems. This increases your chance of success.

If it’s something you would have used earlier in life but wouldn’t today, then the longer the time difference, the lower your odds of success. For instance, if you’re building a product for apartment renting, but you’ve owned a house for 10 years, you’re likely out of touch with what users want.

There is still a risk of addiction for even the most healthy products, but luckily the rate is low (<1%), and the benefits likely outweigh the cons.

Peddler

You create something you don’t use yourself, but you believe improves the user’s life.

  • Don’t fool yourself - ask yourself if you honestly believe the product benefits the user’s life, or whether you’re just rationalizing something you know is bad.

Because you don’t have the problem yourself, you have to take extra leaps to imagine the user who’ll find the product valuable.

  • You may also have the hubris that you can understand someone who’s unlike you,...

PDF Summary Chapter 7: Bible App Example

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Variable Reward

  • It’s unclear which verse you’ll receive at any time - thus it’s a delight to see what you get each day.
  • The random verse can sometimes even feel like direct messages from God, when the right message comes at the right time for your problem. Few rewards from apps can really feel this powerful.
  • Social features allow users to send messages to each other.

Investment

  • Committing to a reading plan gives the app a compelling reason to notify the user to return and honor their commitment.
  • Progress recorders tick off a calendar for each day a user successfully reads the verse.
  • Users highlight verses, add comments, and create bookmarks - all investments. The app becomes their repository of life experiences and wisdom.

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PDF Summary Chapter 8: Testing Habits with Users

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    *   Facebook started with just Harvard students.
  • Consider what new technologies enable
    • New technology waves establish an infrastructure first, enabling new applications to reach massive penetration.
    • Figure out what behaviors new technologies make easier.
      • The camera integrated into the smartphone made photo-taking far easier, giving rise to Instagram.
  • Find how user interfaces can drive new habit formation
    • Apple and Microsoft turned text-based terminals into GUIs modifiable with a mouse.
    • Google simplified the search interface of Yahoo.
    • Pinterest created an infinite-scrolling canvas of images that was more addictive than smaller fixed galleries..
    • Consider “living in the future.”
  • Ask three people outside your social circle what apps occupy their phone’s home screen. Ask them to use their favorite app and observe any nascent behaviors.