A lot of literature is starting to come out about the nature of tech products and just how addictive they can be. We have even learned that Facebook may be conducting gigantic experiments on our moods, and studies are analyzing the link between specific social networks and depression.
In short, there are definite question marks about the long term health benefits of using a lot of tech products.
But how exactly does Silicon Valley think about creating addictive tech products? There are several books that teach the art of creating great products. One book in particular, 'Hooked', addresses the topic in great detail.
Hooked's author, Nir Eyal, is a major advocate around focusing around the ethics of creating products, which he addresses in the book. Here are the basic principles outlined in Hooked:
In general, people respond to internal or external triggers that cause them to use products more frequently. An internal trigger might be, as an example, boredom. If you're bored, you tend to look at your smartphone - these 'internal' triggers are the most desirable when creating products. An external trigger can be an advertisement, which causes you to visit a site and make a purchase.
Trigger ultimately lead people to take action to satisfy the trigger. As outlined in the previous section, the desired action and response should be to focus on using the product you create.
It's not just as easy as creating a simple 'reward' to satisfy the trigger. The concept of variable rewards is discussed extensively in product circles in the Valley. It's the whole reason you have 'likes' vs 'comments' and other potential behaviors within products.
There is a certain amount of utility associated with certain rewards, and others rewards are valued more highly. Having different types of rewards is key to making a successful product.
Ultimately, you want a user to continue to invest in the product to escalate their commitment to using it. This could be additional poker credits, for example, or additional lands/gadgets in a game. The more a user escalates commitment, the more likely they are to continue using your product.
If the above sounds like you, you've successfully fallen into the Hooked model for products that you use. To be fair, non-tech businesses have been adopting these practices for years.
Ikea, for example, creates escalation of commitment through the furniture assembly process. People feel a disproportionate amount of attachment to things they assemble, vs things they buy.
There is a broader discussion to be had about ethics in product management, as more and more studies come out questioning the long term health and viability of over-use of tech. Now is potentially the time to have that discussion before technologies like Virtual Reality become adopted in the mass market.