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Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products Hardcover – November 4, 2014
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Voted one of the best business books of the year by Goodreads readers.
"With concrete advice and tales from the product-development trenches, this is a thoughtful discussion of how to create something that users never knew they couldn’t live without."
“A must read for everyone who cares about driving customer engagement."
—Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup
“The book everyone in Silicon Valley is talking about.”
—Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, founder of The Next Web
“Hooked gives you the blueprint for the next generation of products. Read Hooked or the company that replaces you will.”
—Matt Mullenweg, Founder of Wordpress
“The most high bandwidth, high octane, and valuable presentation I have ever seen on this subject.”
—Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather
"You'll read this. Then you'll hope your competition isn't reading this. It's that good."
—Stephen P. Anderson, Author of Seductive Interaction Design
"Nir's work is an essential crib sheet for any startup looking to understand user psychology.”
—Dave McClure, Founder 500 Startups
"When it comes to driving engagement and building habits, Hooked is an excellent guide into the mind of the user."
—Andrew Chen, Technology Writer and Investor
“I’ve learned a great deal from Nir, and you will too. He’ll help you design habits to benefit your users, and your company.”
—Dr. Stephen Wendel, author Designing for Behavior Change
About the Author
Nir Eyal spent years in the video gaming and advertising industries where he learned, applied, and at times rejected, techniques described in Hooked to motivate and influence users. He has taught courses on applied consumer psychology at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and at Fortune 500 companies. His writing on technology, psychology, and business appears in the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.
To learn more or to get in touch with Nir, visit nirandfar.com
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Most of the reviews I've been seeing have been addressing Eyal's execution of the 'Hooked' concept, which I'd give something like a 2.5 - the ideas are clearly expressed, but the writing is fairly dumbed down, and the book's ideas could (and given his writing style, should) have been expressed in about a quarter-length pamphlet rather than a full book.
My biggest problem with the book is its basic premise, that 'hooking' people - that is, making them compulsive users of your technology product - is something worth doing. Eyal makes a number of assumptions about the benefits of technology here - he commonly alludes to Facebook, Instagram, et al as 'solving' our feelings of loneliness, for instance. Among many other occurrences, a line in the book says Instagram "helps users dispel boredom by connecting them with others." Everything about technology use is placed in a positive light - 'solving' problems, 'connecting' users. It's the standard litany of Silicon Valley Tech Speak, but bumped up a great many RPMs and set on continuous repeat.
The idea of 'hooking' a user to your product is strikingly similar to that of causing a user 'to be addicted' to your product, including use of the same mechanisms to do it. For example, the third piece of the 'hook' cycle is the use of variable rewards to help make users habitual users of your product - this is the exact mechanism that makes gambling so potentially addictive. Even the book's cover art shows a mouse pointer clicking somewhere near the nucleus accumbens of a brain, the dopamine center manipulated by variable rewards that help fuel behavioral addictions. Eyal discusses how, in the 1950's, Olds and Milner would stimulate mice in this region, and see them forgo food and water in exchange for more stimulation. (Think 'Infinite Jest', with mice in cages.) If his book espouses manipulation, at least he's (relatively) honest about it.
Eyal discusses - very briefly, at the very end of his talk/book - the morality of manipulating people in this way, and of causing, if you successfully carry out his formula and do everything else right, your users to develop behavioral addictions to your product. But his discussion of morality is too little, too late - during his talk, he spends forty minutes discussing how his model will allow audience members to build the next Facebook, and then five minutes pleading with them to use this information only to improve the world. "Basically, I want you all to use this for good," he begs, and then quotes Gandhi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." (The Mahatma, by the way, apparently never actually said this.) That's about it. When I saw the talk, I suspected he added this bit at the end to appease sane-minded audience members and prevent heckling.
In the book, at least, Eyal includes a short chapter near the end discussing the morality of this approach, and, perhaps as a way of showing how his 'hooked' formula can be used for good, a case study illustrating how a Bible app - YouVersion - carries out (more or less) the four steps of the hooked model. (The chapter also employs a nauseating number of religious puns: "Switching to a different digital Bible - God forbid..."; "Gruenewald's app is a Godsend", ad nauseum.) But it's unconvincing; and it's perhaps telling that the best positive example Eyal can find of a technology product achieving good with his model is 'getting people to read the Bible more.'
I understand that this kind of thing happens all the time - you'd better believe that large technology companies are many steps ahead of even Eyal in this game. But it bothers me to see it filtered down and formulatized in a set of followable steps. It might bother me less if Eyal emphasized the ways in which this could be used for good throughout the book - for health behavior change, for instance, an area of technology design that's quickly growing and has shown potential for doing actual good. Eyal references Sunstein and Thaler's 'Nudge', another book I just finished (and one that I highly recommend). Those authors also present methods that could be seen as manipulative, but are careful to include frank and lengthy discussions on how to morally employ these techniques - not a hollow plea to 'only do good' with the methods followed by a flippant reading of a Gandhi quote. The authors of 'Nudge', moreover, fill the book with case studies in which their concept has - or at least, can - produce real, substantial benefit for great numbers of people. That book deserves attention and praise - people should be paying attention to *that* one.
Paul Graham has somewhat famously said (Eyal even references it) that "The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago.... and the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40. We'll increasingly be defined by what we say no to." It bothers me greatly to see a book outlining *how* to make the world more addictive - and weakly excusing itself for doing so - seeing such success, especially here in Silicon Valley, where people designing products that 'touch people's lives' are only learning how to do so more effectively, more thoroughly, more persistently, more addictively.
I will readily admit I borrowed "Hooked" from my library first, lately I delved into a couple of hyped books (for more details please see my other reviews) and now got smarter. I don't buy every book asap. However, after reading halfway through "Hooked" I purchased it because it is fascinating and intelligent on many levels.
Browsing through a couple of negative reviews here I noted that somebody mentioned that this book "Hooked" doesn't provide a perfect blueprint; well, no book ever does. Anybody who believes that is either under the age of 23 or has never tried any business endeavor.
What I like about "Hooked" is that author Nir Eyal presents a multi-faceted picture and thinking. He does not have one scenario but explains how the experiences from many fields lead us to a model how we (most likely) can "hook" customers.
The book is witty and Eyal brings a lot of obvious examples that make the reader think:
"... (p.44) Types of External Triggers: ... Imagine if Facebook or Twitter needed to buy an ad to prompt users to revisit their sites–these companies would soon go broke..."
It's a brilliant example. Most of the people who read this book have a presence on either one or both social media sites, hence we can imagine the situation and we can see why "the advertisement model of yore" is not the answer to today's more complex situation any longer. Opposite to only 25 years ago when running ads on TV or in newspapers was one sure path to success today we have more opportunities hence that old system isn't working any longer.
The book features absolutely fascinating examples.
On p. 32 Eyal lays out that today many investors want to know "Are you building a vitamin or a painkiller?" implying, though a "great vitamin" will have many fans and followers who swear by it there will be others who don't care about living healthy; in contrast, everybody who has pains needs a painkiller whether they like it or not.
Eyal makes the reader go through the exercise of pondering if today's hottest consumer technology companies (FB, Twitter, Instagram etc.) offer vitamins or painkillers. Indeed, though at first it looks as if all of them offer vitamins there are already enough "addicted" people who need "social media site painkillers" to vent, to reaffirm their own worth and so on...
It is this interesting and fascinating thinking which I believe to be valuable to all people regardless of whether they are entrepreneurs who want to sell something, or people who work in a steady employment.
These days we never know how things are going, hence adding this riveting perspective to one's thinking can only be extremely beneficial.
I also appreciated the detailed list of social media sites and apps mentioned throughout the book. I am one of the people Eyal mentions, people who have reservations to join just any site and build cross connections. Still, learning about Codeacademy, Mahalo, Fitocracy, Any.do, Tinder, and what makes visitors come back to them was extremely interesting,.
Recommended with a wholehearted – 5 stars. Now purchased; in fact, I am thinking about getting my two children copies of this book too.
Gisela Hausmann, author and Amazon review expert.
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