It's 2003 and the initial excitement, innovation and greed that fueled the technology boom of the late 90s have all but disappeared. Yet left in their tracks are the tangible building blocks of an industry destined to continue changing commerce, education and social activism in profound and irreversible ways.
For a fresh perspective on the forces shaping next-phase software and Web development, look no further than "Persuasive Technology" by Dr. B.J. Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. Surely, academic research may fail to generate the enthusiasm of erstwhile launch parties and public offerings, but Dr. Fogg's work offers a purposeful key to helping us understand, and thereby design, more effective and sustainable (read: revenue-generating) interactive technologies.
Proposing a new analytical model called "captology", short for "computers as persuasive technologies", Dr. Fogg is the first to address the increasingly important role of computers in actuating attitudinal and behavioral change - in other words, the ability to persuade users to take a particular action: to buy more, play more, lose weight, quit smoking, register to win, etc. For technology researchers accustom to the tenets of Usability - essentially the evaluation of functionality and "likability" - captology goes a significant step further, addressing the extent to which an interactive device (be it a website or mobile phone) succeeds in changing users' attitudes and behaviors. The importance of this research is unquestionable, if you can imagine (or personally relate to) an online marketer anxious to sell more goods, or a smoker who turns to a motivational website to help him/her quit. It is no longer enough for a website or software tool to be "user friendly"; its intended objective - as a tool of persuasion - must be achieved.
Through the study of captology, designers have a new framework for building products, services and promotions that succeed in generating the results they seek. What could be more timely and constructive in this period when all sectors - commercial, educational, social/civic and more - are straining to yield measurable, bottom-line results from their technology investments?
Thank you, Dr. Fogg, for the fresh and purposeful approach. Your timing couldn't be better!
M.A. Communications, Annenberg School for Communication. University of Pennsylvania
Principal, Media-Screen Consulting