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Fixing the Mess Caused by Addictive Software

It grabs your attention, entertains you for anything up to 7 minutes and then keeps you coming back for more. At the same time, it adds little value to your life.

Think about the last time you were too tired to read the book on your nightstand but you ended up reading through 5 listicles. Tech wins — again!

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The problems associated with addictive software

We all know that technology is addictive. You wake up and check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Email, Whatsapp and once you’re done you’d be able to circle back and find new updates.

YouTube vloggers have figured out the perfect formula to keep visitors watching, just one more video. Do you know how many times I’ve read a comment that went something like: “Subscribed! Found your videos today and had to watch them all.” And “all” is about 50+ videos.

Just think about these article titles:

  • You won’t recognise these celebs now!
  • 10 Pictures you wish you hadn’t seen!
  • Every day words you’ve been using incorrectly your whole life!

And for all the leaps and bounds the web has come in the last 2 decades, these lists are purposefully built on the slowest pages, that use full page refresh, while the Next button is lost among the ads.

All that, to distract and condition user behaviour.

Checklist: Is your application addictive?

Do you have any of the following features that are either addictive or provide little value?

  • Blatantly unhelpful listicles
  • Hacks and seemingly helpful articles that are just fluff and encourage people to waste time. Who feels good about themselves after a whole day scrolling through an app?! Sooner or later that negative feeling is going to be associated with your app.
  • You send newsletters/mails to your subscribers every second day and the subject line or tone of the mail aims to hook users in or make them feel like they’re missing out on life changing information.
  • Likes, Ratings and Comments — Are Likes, Ratings and Comments major features of your apps? The easier and more commitment free these actions are, the bigger the problem. Sure, rating a hotel experience is useful. But how about Likes and Comments? Do they actually connect users in a meaningful manner? How many times do we see harsh opinions or insults shared on another user’s profile with little accountability? These quick and easy interactions, with little accountability, have changed the way we communicate in the real world — for the worse. Likes for likes are meaningless and frivolous and even if we really do Like that holiday destination image, why are we so dedicated to curating that list of things we want instead of doing it/living it?
  • Do you try to do too much by offering lots of options or alternatives? The Netflix search below is a perfect example.

When I search for a show that Netflix doesn’t have, it doesn’t clearly state that there is no match found. Instead it says:

Explore titles related to:

And then it shows you dozens of loosely related shows.

Ugh!

Why not just clearly state: Sorry, we can’t find a match but here’s a few related shows. Netflix doesn’t acknowledge not having a show — it moves along to alternatives way too quickly.

To me that implies: Our users are dumb, let’s give them alternatives and they probably won’t even remember what they were looking for, as the shiny new shows catch their attention.

It’s all about hooking users in.

But I want users to control their experience and make smart decisions.

Saying no to monkey mind

There are mobile and browser apps to regulate your app/internet usage.

But I don’t use apps to cure my app dependency.

You know what’s smarter than using night-mode on your computer or mobile screen, to tell you when it’s time to sleep? Not using your computer or mobile incessantly all the way up until you get in bed.

Photo by IN BOSSMODE on Unsplash

My deliberate decision to build non-addictive software that encourages better behaviour

Last year I worked on a side project for a few months. I wanted to create a web application and it was important to me that the app did the following:

  • made employees more efficient and their job less tedious
  • saved the company money; and
  • enabled easy sharing of information that would save time for everyone.

I wanted to improve job happiness and life quality on a daily basis.

I wanted to centralise information and simplify a task that had been made overly complicated, so that an engineer’s day could have more variety than work > home > eat > sleep > repeat.

The ethos behind anything I build

  • I have absolutely no interest in hooking people in and keep them coming back for more.
  • Anything I build should help an individual or society perform a task and then step away to spend more time in the real world.
  • It should help people make informed decisions — rather than quick and easy fixes.
  • But it should also provide quick and easy fixes for appropriate situations.
  • The solution should not be dependent on fads or trends. Keeping up with what’s popular is part of why people are constantly checking in — to see if they’re still relevant.
  • As I mentioned above, rating a service is useful and even helpful to other users. However, applications that enable and encourage users to insult others, with little accountability, is not something I want to build into my apps.
  • I probably won’t be building Likes into my apps either, as I think it’s utterly superficial and damaging to the user’s psyche. Users upload an image and then repeatedly refresh, waiting for Likes. While smarter users are able to differentiate between quality and fluff, many impressionable users determine the value of information and images by Likes — and that is scary! Online behaviour has also seeped into the real world, where validation has become a major issue. It now affects more people of all ages, and with more intensity than it did about a decade ago.
  • People need digital detoxes because they’re addicted to something unhealthy. But when software actually wants to help you, you’ll get to spend more time in the real world. A good example here is, Uber. Uber has made travel easier and more affordable and you don’t ever spend time on the app unnecessarily.

I don’t want the software I build to be a focal point in someone’s life. I want my product to enable users to live a richer life — offline.

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