June 11, 2013

Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups

This is the final essay in a three part series, including Habit Startups and Building a Habit Startup. This was originally published on NirAndFar.com.

Startups that build a product attached to nascent behaviors have an opportunity to form habits before anyone else. First mover advantage matters. Once a habit is formed, it’s difficult to change leading to sustained competitive advantage.

In order to mine for yet untapped opportunities, I began to observe my own behaviors and those of people around me:

How is my daily routine different than last year?

What new behaviors have I seen amongst my social circles (online and off)?

How are “normals” engaging with technology in new ways?

Here are some of the nascent behaviors I’ve observed:

  • Gamification of Life - Have you noticed how different teens and pre-teens use social networks? From my observations following my younger cousins and other’s writing on the topic, younger audiences are in constant competition with one another, using Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms as a game. Teens perceive follower counts, likes, and other forms of social currency seriously, directly prompting others to reciprocate.
  • Diverse Media Expression - In 2009, the primary form of self-expression online was in text via the “status update”. Today we see a variety of mediums used to express oneself: stylized photos on Instagram, micro-videos on Vine, animated GIFs on Cinemagram, ephemeral pics on Snapchat, anonymous photo-captions on Whisper, doodles on MessageMe, and so on. MessageMe, recent addition to the booming mobile messaging market, has embraced this behavioral shift, enabling users to communicate through photos, video, voice, music, location, and (my personaly favorite) doodles within a single experience. This behavioral shift is emphasized in Mary Meeker’s recent 2013 Internet Trends Report (see slide 16).
  • 24/7 Asynchronous Messaging - Mobile messaging apps are blowing up and for some, become the primary form of communication. These experiences are not simply a replacement to traditional SMS, a communication protocol primarily designed for one-to-one messaging. This new breed of apps are designed for one-to-many communication as group chats organically form amongst friends, family, and colleagues. In doing so, a single message is broadcasted to not one, but many people, amplifying spread and instigating further communication more than ever before. These little devices in our pocket become a chatterbox of discussion, connecting us more frequently than ever before.
  • Microtransactions - Far from new, the growing adoption of microtransactions in mobile gaming will continue to bleed into other markets. As friction is removed and the behavior becomes routine, new opportunities will emerge. We’re seeing this in content publishing as startups like Flattr and CentUp attempt to benefit from this change.
  • Second Screens - Second screen usage is becoming the norm. In astudy by Business Insider, more than 80% of 18 to 24-year-olds reported using their phone while watching TV. I see this in my own behavior as well as I context switch back-and-forth between the TV and my phone.
  • Lightweight Reciprocation - The “like” has had a tremendous influence on the web and our connectedness between one another. Nearly every social product has some form of lightweight interaction to give users a quick way to acknowledge each other’s contributions with little cognitive overhead. This is becoming increasingly prevalent as we “favorite” a tweet, “heart” an Instagram photo, and “like” a Facebook post. As a result, more signals of reciprocation are triggered, re-engaging users. But do these lightweight interactions lead to less meaningful interactions and thoughtful engagement? Are we conditioning people to interact mindlessly?

I find that I am most creative and insightful when consciously observing human behavior. Observe yourself. Observe others. Seek anomalies. You never know what insights you might find.

What nascent behaviors do you see? Let me know on Twitter (@rrhoover).

P.S. Sign up for my email list and get a free copy of the upcoming book, Hooked, by habit-design researcher and blogger, Nir Eyal, in collaboration with myself. You’ll dig it. :)

Photo credit: Lettuce

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