Joe Soltzberg's Reviews > Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Hooked by Nir Eyal
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Hooked is an excellent (short) book on the use of psychology in product design. As technology becomes increasingly available to entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, design has become just as important as engineering. Correspondingly, all entrepreneurs should have a good understanding of the principals behind building habit-forming products. In that respect, this book does a great job. This book may not provide any grand revelations or have particularly unique/fascinating case studies, but it is still very valuable (thus the 3 stars, perhaps closer to 3.5). Below I've provided an outline of my notes on the book so that those of us less inclined to read this can still learn the basics. I do still recommend reading the book for the useful examples and exercises at the end of the chapters (which you most definitely should do). I highly recommend reading the book with a specific product in mind that you would like to apply the lessons of Hooked to.

The basic idea behind Hooked is the Hook Model. The model consists of four parts:
-Variable Reward
Quite simply, using a trigger should prompt a user to take an action that results in a variable reward, followed by further investment. This cycle should continue to repeat itself until the user becomes 'hooked'.

The trigger is what makes a user turn to your product. If there isn't a trigger, then what will prompt the user to engage with your product? Nir Eyal explains that there are two types of triggers: external and internal triggers. While external triggers such as an app icon or an advertisement can be useful in getting a user to use your product, truly addictive products use internal triggers. An internal triggers is usually a feeling or emotion that prompts an action to resolve that feeling or emotion. It is easy to see the power of internal triggers. They are omnipresent and a constant part of our lives. Further, it is internal triggers that are the basis of true habit formation on a biological level. Nir Eyal explains:

In the case of internal triggers, the information about what to do next is encoded as a learned association in the user's memory.

There are numerous examples of this. People use snapchat and instagram to resolve their fear of missing out. People use reddit or facebook to resolve their boredom. Have you ever wondered how you just magically seemed to end up using one of these products? It's because it forms a subconscious habit linked with an emotion. So, when building your product make sure to find the internal trigger that you should have your product be associated with it. That is the first step.

Now that you have the trigger, as soon as a user feels that 'itch' your product will pop into their head. But that alone is not enough. It is just as important to make sure that it is easy enough to 'scratch' that itch. The action to do that needs to be a simplistic as possible. After all, if habits are subconscious then it will have to be relatively simple. The book describes the following factors that should be taken into account:

There are three ingredients required to initiate any and all behaviors: (1) the user must have sufficient motivation; (2) the user must have the ability to completed the desired action; and (3) a trigger must be present to activate the action

It is important to focus on motivation and ability. Motivation is often in the form of resolving the emotion associated with the trigger. Ability is where there is much room for innovation. Consider companies like Blogger and Twitter. They made the action of writing significantly easier by reducing the steps necessary to resolve the trigger. This led to massive success. It is important that your action is as simple as possible.

Variable Reward
Now that the user has engaged with your product, it is important to reward them. All habits end with a reward. When you post a picture on instagram, the reward is likes from other people. When you complete your diary for the day on MyFitnessPal, the reward is a nice message telling you about how successful you've been. Even bad habits have 'rewards'. Cigarettes give you a nicotine high and alcohol can make it feel like your problems are solved (but of course not really). Thus, your product not only has to make it easy to scratch that itch... it must also relieve that itch, but that alone is not enough. The rewards need to be variable. Nir Eyal gives many examples and explanations, but the best is Skinner's Pigeon Experiment. In the experiment there are two groups. One is a group of pigeons that are in a cage where if they press a button they will be given some food pellets, but the amount of food dispensed is the same every time. The second group has the same setup, but is given a variable reward every time; sometimes there is more food and sometimes there is less. Skinner found that adding variability significantly increased the frequency of the pigeons pressing the button. Nir Eyal writes:

Skinner's pigeons tell us a great deal about what helps drive our own behaviors. More recent experiments reveal that variability increases activity in the nucleus accumbens and spikes levels of neurotransmitter dopamine, driving our hungry search for rewards.

There are many products that inherently do this. For example, on facebook you never know if you'll find good content in the feed or how many likes your status will get. The same phenomenon happened with the early version of Zynga games. So for even stronger habits, a variable reward is necessary.

The final step of the Hooked Model is what differentiates it from the traditional Habit Loop (see The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business). In order to ensure that users come back to your product, it is important to ask the users to make an investment. By making an investment, users will yet another reason to come back to your product, instead of someone else's. There are many products out there that are better than facebook. But, by having users store their data on there and make friends and comment on other people's data it makes it difficult for users to leave. Nir Eyal explains that in studies user's value their own work 4x more than work of higher quality:

Those who invested labor associated greater value with their creations simply because they had worked on them. Ariely calls this the IKEA effect.

By having your user invest in your product, it makes repeat usage more likely.
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Reading Progress

September 3, 2015 – Shelved
September 3, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
October 12, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
October 16, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
December 26, 2015 –
December 26, 2015 –
December 27, 2015 – Started Reading
December 29, 2015 –
December 30, 2015 –
December 30, 2015 –
December 31, 2015 –
69.0% "From the case study on the bible app: "I walked into a strip club, and man, the bible just texted me.""
January 1, 2016 –
January 1, 2016 –
January 2, 2016 – Finished Reading

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