Is Gamification in Social Apps Ethical?


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Every social product needs a hook. Who does this connect me to? Why is this helpful? Why is this useful? Or most likely, why is this entertaining to me?

During a networking event about app development I remember this smart gentleman kept stating how important time was. This was the most important variable in his opinion. His advice about creating a successful app:

“Are you saving me or helping me kill time?”

In 2015 survey, 36% of 16-64 year old internet users’ stated social media as the “biggest waste of time,” beating out fantasy sports (25%), watching TV (23%), and shopping (9%).


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More recently, the average daily time spent on social media has continued to increase and is now averaging 2 + hours spent on social media every day. Currently there are definitely more platforms available to people, and each platform is growing its user base, but is there something else the drives us back there, every day or more likely every hour? Well yes. And a likely answer? The increase of ‘gamification’ within our social apps.


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Gamification is when a company will design video game like qualities within an app, in a non-game context, to drive users back to continue using their app. The instant gratification of collecting ‘likes’ or ‘favorites’ is a huge driver within this industry. This is important because not only are people developing addictions to social media, the biggest internet companies in the world are actively researching neurological ways to trigger these responses.

 “So one of the interesting things about gamification and other engaging technologies, is at the same time as we can argue that the neuroscience is being used to create dependent behavior those same techniques are being used to get people to work out, you know, using their Fitbit. So all of these technologies, all the techniques for engagement can be used for good, or can be used for bad.”Gabe Zichermann

As 60 Minutes recently mapped out, it’s a tough conversation for product designers and marketers to be less good at their job. However, if this is at the expense of the health and productivity of society, maybe it’s something that’s worth taking into consideration.


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