where myspace and slot machines intersect
During a lunch time discussion last week, my colleagues and I were talking about "frictionless experiences," interactions where there is little barrier to the fulfillment of intentions. We talked about how time can slip away unnoticed when we engage with these experiences. Knowing that I'm a fan of games of chance, Brandon recommended I look at this archived article from the New York Times about slot machines and the psychology behind them.
It's quite good, and worth the price if you're interested in the gambling industry, but there was one hell of a idea-provoking paragraph buried about three-quarters of the way thru the article:
The makers of slot machines may rely on the lure of life-changing jackpots to attract customers, but the machines' ability to hook so deeply into a player's cerebral cortex derives from one of the more powerful human feedback mechanisms, a phenomenon behavioral scientists call infrequent random reinforcement, or ''intermittent reward.'' Children whose parents consistently shower them with love and attention tend to take that devotion for granted. Those who know they'll never be rewarded by their parents stop trying after a while. But those who are rewarded only intermittently — in the fashion of a slot machine — will often pursue positive outcomes with a persistent tenacity.
Now, I'm completely burnt out reading about the psychology of myspace and social networks. But the one question that's been stuck in my brain for quite some time is this: I'm intimately familiar with how easy it is to spend a ton of time inside the interface once I'm there – but what on earth inspires me to engage with something so ugly so frequently?
It's the infrequent random reinforcement. I never know if I'll get cherries across the board ("Two friends added me and I got four messages!") or nothing at all. So I just keep checking; feeding it another quarter, so to speak.
Ok, so that's sorted (at least in my mind). I guess I'm curious if that manipulation of the impetus to engage applies to a greater or lesser degree with sites like flickr, where the currency is user-generated content. Are my friends' posted photographs (for example) a compelling reason to log in more often than I would a "true" social networking site? Or is their "attention" to my MySpace profile more "addictive"?
I have my suspisions, but I'd need comparative metrics. Anyone up for a survey of their actual daily logins?