Yearly archives of “2008

Clearing the tabs

Design and Behaviour : A new discussion list

Google groups: Design and Behaviour

I’m pleased to announce the launch of Design and Behaviour, a new discussion list / Google group:

The design of products, services and environments can be used to influence behaviour, and there’s a growing appreciation of the possibilities for social benefit, especially in environmentally sensitive design, health, safety, security and crime reduction. This group aims to bring together people interested in this emerging field: interaction designers, product designers, graphic designers, engineers, architects, ergonomists, computer scientists, sociologists, psychologists, economists, philosophers, researchers, strategists, policy-makers and anyone else with something to say, or an interest in learning what others are doing.

Run, initially at least, by myself with help from Debra Lilley, the group’s intentionally got a pretty broad scope. Please, if you enjoy this blog (or even if you don’t enjoy it but are interested in the field!) sign up (there’s also a Facebook group if that’s your thing). How the group develops is up to the members, so I can’t give you a definitive high/low traffic indication. But we will endeavour to keep it usable.

P.S. Both and go to the same place.

P.P.S. My apologies for the few weeks off the blog’s had. I’ve been very busy. Thanks to everyone who’s sent interesting items in the meantime – I hope to get round to posting them as soon as I can. It’s intriguing though, looking at the statistics that (aside from one-off spikes such as when we’re Boing Boing’d) the number of unique daily visitors to the site itself (i.e. not via RSS) remains fairly constant Monday-Friday regardless of how stale the posts on the front page are.

Swoopo: Irrational escalation of commitment


Swoopo, a new kind of “entertainment shopping” auction site, takes Martin Shubik’s classic Dollar Auction game to a whole new, automated, mass participation level. It’s an example of the escalation of commitment, or a sunk cost fallacy, where we increase our commitment (in this case with real money) even though (in this case) most users’ positions are becoming less and less valuable.

Thee Cake Scraps has a good analysis of how this works:

It is a ‘auction’ site…sort of. Swoopo sells bids for $1. Each time you use a bid on an item the price is increased by $0.15 for that item. So here is an example:

Person A buys 5 bids from Swoopo for $5 total. Person A sees an auction for $1000 and places the first bid. The auction is now at $0.15. Person A now has a sunk cost of $1 (the cost of the bid they used). There is no way to get that dollar back, win or lose. If Person A wins they must pay the $0.15.

Person B also purchased $5 of bids. Person B sees the same auction and places the second bid. The auction price is now $0.30 (because each bid increases the cost by exactly 15 cents). Person B now has a sunk cost of $1. If Person B wins they must pay the $0.30. Swoopo now has $2 in the bank and the auction is at 30 cents.

This can happen with as many users as there are suckers to start accounts. Why are they suckers? Because everybody that does not have the top spot just loses the money they spent on bids. *Poof* Gone. If you think this sounds a little like gambling or a complete scam you are not alone. People get swept up into the auction and don’t want to get nothing for the money they spent on bids.

The key thing seems to be that some bidders will win items at lower than RRP, i.e. they get a good deal, but for every one of those, there are many, many others who have all paid for their bids (money going to Swoopo) and received nothing as a result. The house will always win.

Swoopo staff respond here and here (at Crunchgear).

As is obligatory with this blog, I need to ask: where else have systems been designed to use this behaviour-shaping technique? There must be many examples in auctions, games and gambling in general – but can the idea be applied to consumer products/services, using escalating commitment to shape user behaviour? Can this be applied to help users save energy, do more exercise, etc as opposed merely to extracting value from them with no benefit in return?

Freudian slip in BBC iTunes story

Apple has repeatedly made clear that it is in this business to make money, and would most likely not continue to operate iTS if it were no longer possible to do so profitably, said Mr Cue. The National Music Publishers' Association has asked for the royalty rake increase and has said it believes everyone will benefit because the digital music market is growing. I think we established a case for an increase in the royalties, said David Israelite, president of the NMPA. Apple may want to sell songs cheaply to sell iPods. We don't make a penny on the sale of an iPod

From this BBC story, as of 6.43 pm.

P.S. I love the way it’s claimed “everyone will benefit” from the royalty rise. As a consumer, I can’t wait to be paying more! Perhaps a price increase will help limit the consumption of this precious rivalrous good… oh, wait…

P.P.S. Not the first time a BBC story about Apple’s had truer-than-they-perhaps-meant phrasing.