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Book Review: Hooked by Nir Eyal

Hooked is an introduction to the model and modern day habit-forming techniques that go into making habitual products.

The Fortune Book Club Book Review: Hooked

Summary

Title: Hooked
Author: Nir Eyal
Publisher: Portfolio Penguin
Publication date: 6 Nov. 2014
Pages: 256
ISBN-10: 0241184835
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis

Have you ever wondered why social networks are so addicting? Or why simple free to play games can generate so much money? Hooked outlines the techniques that modern companies are utilising in order to get their customers hooked to their products and explains how you can benefit by using the same techniques.

Review

Painkillers solve an obvious need, relieving a specific pain, and often have quantifiable markets.

Hooked is a short and sweet introduction and summary of the key concepts of gamification and other habit-forming techniques used in modern day product development. The content is to the point and well explained and the writing style is both enjoyable and accessible. As such, it thoroughly deserves its praise and resulting 4/5 rating.

You can tell how well a book resonates with me by the number of sticky tabs that cover its pages. As you may have seen with Networking for People Who Hate Networking there were only a measly three tabs. For Hooked however, countless tabs litter its pages showcasing the usefulness of its content for beginners to habitual product development.

Moreover, the book also references numerous books (see the mentioned reading section below) from the areas of psychology and user interaction / experience design, aiding and encouraging readers to delve further into these topics. Supporting evidence, examples and facts are also backed up by articles and academic papers, all of which is referenced in the notes section at the back of the book. This again provides readers with myriad content to study independently.

The premise of the book is to explain the so-called ‘Hook Model’ that creates habitual use, and in the extreme case dependency/addiction, found in product development. The model is most commonly adopted in software products such as social networks and mobile apps and has four stages:

  • Trigger – call to action
  • Action – the action being triggered
  • Variable Reward – the varying result from the action
  • Investment – continued use of the product

Vitamins do not necessarily solve an obvious pain point. Instead they appeal to users’ emotional rather than functional needs.

These four steps are covered in detail with supporting examples of use and demonstrate how users can become habitual users of products. While at times the examples can be slightly tenuous, on the whole they are accessible and relevant leading to both clarity and revelation. For example, the process made me realise that I have become a habitual user of Boots for all my pharmaceutical needs even though I pass at least two pharmacies on the walk there.

Furthermore, there is a whole chapter dedicated to a case study on a habit-forming mobile application to highlight the techniques it uses to entice and keep its users. While I found this superfluous, since the chapters explaining the model are more than enough to grasp the concept, it is interesting to see how a company is utilising the model on a day-to-day basis and will be useful to some.

However, the ethics chapter titled ‘What Are You Going To Do With This?’ felt thrown in out of necessity in order to highlight the moral dilemma surrounding creating habitual products. There wasn’t too much of a balanced argument and to me the general message conveyed was that in support of manipulation the majority of the time. Habitual software products were compared to gambling and slot machines and of course made to seem a lot friendlier and less impactful. Therefore it’s hard to believe that this is the author’s opinion and not bias, after all he is a product development consultant.

That said, the book is well written and just detailed enough for beginners in this field. Concepts are explained well and analogies are relevant, but while resources and references are cited for those that wish to explore further, the book only touches upon the surface of habit-forming techniques and is therefore probably not suitable for those with prior knowledge in the area. Overall it’s an interesting and thought-provoking read, that leaves you wondering whether or not you are truly Hooked to today’s technological products.

Mentioned Reading

  • Just Enough Research – Erika Hall
  • Something Really New: Three Steps to Creating Truly Innovative Products – Denis J. Hauptly
  • Seductive Interaction Design – Stephen Anderson
  • The New Thing – Michael Lewis
  • Evil By Design – Chris Nodder

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By Jake Doran

Masters in Advanced Computer Science student at Keele University, interested in all things tech and business, with aspirations to undertake an MBA in the future.

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