Are there any advantages to irritating users?

Half a screen with ideas for outdoor meditation spaces, and half urging me to sign up/log in.

Half a screen with ideas for outdoor meditation spaces, and half urging me to sign up/log in.

This morning I had the pleasure (pleasure?) of encountering a form of gate-keeping at some of the more popular user-generated-content sites. Usually the block comes in the form of a persistent layover that darkens content and requires either downloading the app, signing up for an account or both. In the cases I saw, at Airbnb, Pinterest and TripAdvisor, there was either no option to continue browsing the site or that option was well hidden. Also, in all three cases, the block came almost immediately, while or right after the page loaded. In TripAdvisor, continuing to browse without downloading the app generates some sort of overlay

TripAdvisor: first the carrot, a promise of the full experience, then the stick, a limit to 3 reviews.

TripAdvisor: first the carrot, a promise of the full experience, then the stick, a limit to 3 reviews.

 at almost every view. I’ve seen this before with Pinterest (their blocker almost immediately covers a third of the page and once the viewer scrolls down, the entire page is soon covered) and wonder which other sites have adopted this and what drives that adoption decision? I’m curious about three things:

  1. Why put the gate so soon after the first screen? Wouldn’t it be a better experience for the user to let them browse some of the content beforehand to see how it provides them some value? Wouldn’t it be a better and more persuasive experience to allow more browsing before blocking access? Twitter used to welcome non-users with a single-photo screen that allowed either signing in or signing up. Now Twitter has a beautiful image-rich layout with content from Moments that shows potential users what Twitter is and what it can do for them.
  2. As product managers we are constantly told to delight our users and to give them the best possible user experience. This type of gate-keeping puts user acquisition over user delight and it’s unfriendly to say the least. The only possible justification I see for this gate from the user’s perspective is if the user experience is so much better after they register. Not just artificially better like the TripAdvisor gate that shows only 3 reviews for non-users and all to logged in users, but significantly better, such as Twitter where logged in users can go beyond Moments and really customize their timeline. So does Pinterest meet that justification? Possibly, because sharing and pinning becomes more engaging with registration. Do TripAdvisor and Airbnb? I doubt it. Perhaps a faster booking experience but this is irrelevant before a guest has even chosen what they want to book.
  3. How much brand recognition must a site or app have before it can create a barrier and have it work? (Dang, I wish I had the numbers.)

Finally, Pinterest has been doing this for at least a year and I’m not sure how long the others have, so I am sure the numbers justify the irritation. It’s interesting that by annoying casual visitors Pinterest gains more registered users and that those users are likely more engaged (again, these are just assumptions.) So even if this gate-keeping feels wrong from my perspective, the data must support it.

Sometimes the short term pain is worth the long term gain.

Update: a commenter on Google+ added a link to this article about why Pinterest forces visitors to log in and, on mobile, download the app. The TL;DR: it’s about the money. The longer version is that it does justify the aggravation by, as I said above, by creating more loyal users. Says Casey Winters, Pinterest’s product lead for growth: “you can basically see where you get more engaged users and more revenue over time.” In the article, Mr Winters explains why frustrating mobile users users makes sense for the company. Requiring users to download the app by limiting the mobile site’s functionality gained Pinterest more loyal users and increased revenue.

Mr Winters offered this piece of advice to product managers and it shows, that as always, there are no shortcuts: “learn your mobile equation, do that experiment, figure out every step of that flow, and see if you can optimize it to improve it.”

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One thought on “Are there any advantages to irritating users?

  1. Pingback: Amazon, you’ve lost that loving feeling. Jet, I’m sorry. | What it all boils down to

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