What makes Pocket a Habit-Forming Product?

A simple analyses of Pocket app using the infamous Hook Framework

Haris Aghadi
Nov 4, 2016 · 8 min read

I hated reading. Until few years ago I don’t think I ever finished reading one entire book in my life — yea no kidding! I just couldn’t get through it. I never understood when people said they read for pleasure, I was like WTF is wrong with those people. How can someone have pleasure doing such a boring thing! I never read anything unless I really had to — exams and assignments in college.

For me books were inherently a boring thing. I really disliked them, especially when I had to find something in them. I just hated going through a book to look for something. I would always prefer a google search over it.

Although, I didn’t like reading books. I liked reading online. I would always read some articles every now and then about technology and products. This lead to 3 problems that I constantly struggled with.

  • My productivity suffered because I was frequently getting distracted by these articles all over my social feed.
  • So I then starting having tabs open of few dozen articles that I thought I would read later — that rarely happened. Either my Chrome crashed or I forgot about tabs and closed the window.
  • I always struggled finding where did I read something and how I can find it to read it again or share it with someone.

These problems got even worse when 2 years ago when I launched my startup. I had no prior industry experience or any formal work experience for that matter. I launched my startup out of college and was spending countless hours reading stuff on startups and product development. That’s when I somehow stumbled on Pocket and it changed my life!

What is Pocket?

In case you don’t know what Pocket is probably because you been living under a rock all these years. At least that’s what I felt when I discovered Pocket. It’s a content management app. Put it in simple words — it’s a “Save for Later” app. You find something cool on the internet, you add it to Pocket and read it later.

The way I would describe it:

Save content from anywhere and have it anywhere

You can also easily categorize everything by tagging them and archive them. You can then easily search any of the articles to find them again. It solved all my problems!

Why do this?

I’ve been intrigued with the Hook Framework for quite sometime. I think Nir Eyal’s book Hooked is fantastic. It’s a must read for any one in product space. I want to make sure I understand the framework correctly so I can have a better chance building great products. I thought what’s better than analyzing a product that I love using with it. More importantly, my main purpose is to know what I’m wrong about.

This post is a direct inspiration from Christopher Nheu’s awesome post on What makes PokémonGo so Addictive?

Hook Framework

Step 1: Internal Trigger — What does the user wants to do?

This is the 1st step in the Hook model. The main purpose is to understand what internal emotions trigger this behavior? what does the user wants to do?

  • Satisfy Curiosity: People go to Pocket to consume content that they added earlier in the day to finally get time to learn about something that they were meaning to do.
  • FOMO: People don’t want to be frequently distracted while working but they don’t want to miss out on great content either. So they add it to pocket and consume it later at peace when they are not working.
  • Cure Boredom: I use Pocket heavily when I’m bored, especially when I’m waiting for something — horrible traffic, waiting at the doctor’s office, getting my car fixed etc. I would rather use my time to learn something new than play a mindless game to kill time.
  • Social Recognition and Show off: Pocket has a cool recommendation feed that is shown on its mobile app for content discovery. Lot of people would go to pocket to read what’s trendy and hot so that they can later talk to their friends about in social gathering to come out as smart, knowledgable and well-aware of global affairs.

Step 2: External Trigger — What gets the user to the product?

In addition to internal emotions, a user needs stimuli through number of things in their environment. It communicates the next action the user should take.

  • Paid Ads: Pocket running google Adwords campaign to lure people for keywords like save for later and content discovery. So whenever someone is searching for any content related apps, they would see pocket and land on their website.
  • Press Mention: This is how I found out about Pocket. They got lot of good press on TC, Mashable, TNW etc. This makes people take a product more seriously when its covered on more authoritative news outlets.
  • Word of Mouth Referral: Lot of people would found out about Pocket from their friends and how they like it so much or read it on some medium post 😉 People can also find out about it if someone shared a link to a pocket article on their Twitter.
  • Newsletters & Push Notifications: Pocket sends a daily email digest with the most popular content on its platform for people to browse. For lot of people thats their primary way of content discovery. You also get a push notification if one of your Twitter following joins Pocket and you can see her recommendations.

Step 3: Action — What is the simplest behavior in anticipation of reward?

Trigger causes behavior change — an action a user takes in anticipation of reward. An action is usually influenced by 3 things: Trigger, Motivation and Ability.

When people are browsing their feed they find something cool and interesting, they right click the link and Save to Pocket to not miss out on or they stumbled upon a great NY Times article and save to pocket. The FOMO drives this action. Also, it’s so quick and easy to do that people end up adding links to pocket several times the day.

To satisfy curiosity and boredom people open the app later and consume the content to feel better. The fact that it’s available across all platforms — web, desktop, mac, iOS, Android, Windows that it makes it really easy for people to access the content from anywhere. Not to mention it makes is available offline too so you can browse when you don’t have wifi/data.

Step 4: Variable Reward — Is the reward fulfilling, yet leaves the user wanting more?

What is it that user gets after being on your product that keeps them hooked?

Reward in Pocket’s case is the information and knowledge that you gained that made you slightly smarter and well informed about a particular topic. It’s something you been anxious about to know all day and you finally know about it. It’s the need to acquire and know more information to feel important and can contribute to social conversations.

Lot of users frequently add lot of articles to pocket throughout the day. So when they finally get time reading it they find something that they totally forgot about — they get a nice surprise.

“The uncertainty of what users will find each time they visit the site creates the intrigue needed to pull them back again” ~ Nir Eyal

Sometime the information you gain through pocket can be different from your pre-existing bias and assumptions — which creates a conflict and people like it.

You feel accomplished when you finally get time consuming content and you click on that check mark thing to archive something. You feel you did something good. For me I get a kick out of archiving the content I just read. I feel so productive — the same feeling I get when I finish my Trello tasks. I also get really anxious if I go a day or two without reading the pocket list. I get worried that articles are piling up and I have to read and archive them.

Step 5: Investment — What is the bit of work done to increase the likelihood of returning?

What’s the minimum effort or usage a user needs to do in your product to make him/her come back to it?

  • Number of content pieces added — The more articles I add the more frequently I go back to pocket to consume it.
  • Number of tags — All the articles are organized by their respective tags. Makes browsing content by topics much easier. It also helps finding out archived content. For me this is probably the biggest thing that keeps me from moving to Pocket’s competitors. I’ve been using Pocket for quite sometime now that I have so many different tags with dozens or articles in each of them. I don’t want to go through the hassle of creating these tags again. It’s a nice repository of all my favorite content in one place.
  • Time spend reading articles — I spent almost 1–2 hours a day reading stuff on pocket. I’ve been doing that for quite sometime. I have this emotional attachment to the app. For me it’s always struggle to turn off pocket and get back to work or sleep. It’s always “ohh i’ve been reading for like an hour, let me just finish 2–3 more articles.”

Final Thoughts

Pocket has a an immense impact on my life. It makes me smarter, efficient and happier. The best thing about Pocket is I don’t need external triggers to bring me back to the app. I’ve all the emails and push notifications disabled, yet I use the app more than 3–5 times a day.

I’ve also started long form content on Pocket. Not only that I’m actually reading hard copy books now. Now the struggle is between reading stuff on Pocket or books 😂

I’d love to hear your thoughts or call out my BS. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Tap the💚 below then follow me on Twitter if you liked this.

Read more about the Hook framework at Nir’s awesome blog

Psychology of Stuff

Interesting thoughts at the intersection of technology, psychology, and business

Haris Aghadi

Written by

Co-founder @ www.meddy.co, obsessed with Healthcare, Product, UX & SEO. @CarnegieMellon Alum. Tweets about VC, Online Marketing & Startups.

Psychology of Stuff

Interesting thoughts at the intersection of technology, psychology, and business

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