Gradual Engagement: Putting your users first

Gradually engaging your audience

Ever since I first heard Luke Wroblewski talking about the concept of Gradual Engagement, I had an immediate “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?” moment.

To put it simply, Gradual Engagement is the process of allowing a user to explore what you have to offer, before deciding if they like it enough to actually sign up for it.

Gradual Engagement doesn’t force a user to register first.

Software Test Pro, forced engagement example.
Software Test Pro, forced engagement. When attempting to access a podcast, I’m forced to engage into an unwanted membership, be that free or not.

If it does, you don’t even realize it has occurred! old design used to make the family tree creation process double as a transparent sign up process.’s old design used to make the family tree creation process double as a transparent sign up process.

Why should you be forced into an unwanted engagement, when all you want to do is get a feeling for something?

A glimmer of hope?

Crazy huh?  I’m sure CEO’s all around the world are scratching their heads thinking, surely if they register first, I’ll have more chance of keeping them?  No!  Half of the battle is getting people to register in the first place.  The sight of a big ugly old registration form is enough to make a lot of people turn around and run for the hills.  Furthermore, so many forms capture needless information just to fulfill some pointless metric, or open up avenues for the company to spam you.  Yes, users feel harassed at being asked for more information than they should do!  Why should they trust you?

Forcing users to jump over fences to get information that they want is not the way forward!

Most importantly, Gradual Engagement isn’t new!  It’s been around for a decades.  Remember shareware, freemium business models and the more recent spin liteware (no exact wiki reference sadly)?  These are all similar concepts.  Get people interested first before making them part with their hard earned cash.  The phrase Gradual Engagement is simply far more self-explanatory, and in turn makes itself more useable as a medium for making others see sense.

Why should you care?

So what on earth has all of this got to do with Software Testing?  Well if you think testing is merely about checking if software works or not, then I’ve probably lost you somewhat.  Don’t worry though; testing is much, much more!  Testing is among many things, caring about the success or failure of your product.  Part of the success may be investigating how people will interact with your software, and trying to proactively avoid them wanting to throw in the towel at the first hurdle.  By removing the hurdle in the first place, you give your product a fighting chance of actually being adopted by someone and not simply thrown away.  Good testers care about these things.  They think holistically, not just about what’s in front of them today or tomorrow.

A new playfield for the losers and winners

So moving on, we are starting to see consoles of all things getting their own apps.  Fantastic!  I can fast forward 20 years into the future and see myself never having to leave my couch!  The wonderful thing about consoles though, is that it’s a new paradigm to play with.  It is all very new so we can expect many great successes and many great failures.  For Gradual Engagement there is one excellent example of both already.

NetFlix provide a video application for the Xbox, which allows you to watch media content.  After downloading and launching the app you’ll be asked if you are a member or not.  Fair enough, but if you aren’t a member your next screen, instead of being a navigation paradigm to explore and preview their vast array of content (which they so want to show off), instead you are presented with a sign up for a free trial option.  So not only do you have to fill in a form of some kind, but you’ll also have to engage in a trial which you may, or may not remember to cancel should you no longer wish to use it.  For all you know, you might not even like it once you’ve signed up for it, so why the hell would you want to go through the hassle in the first place?  The damndest thing though, is that unlike web paradigms which have lots of interactive elements, the Xbox app is a linear process, so I can only ever go forward (sign up for trial), or back (exit app).  Pretty stupid, if you ask me!

ILoveFilm on the other hand, also have an Xbox application, but wait!  Listen carefully and keep this between ourselves for now!  ILoveFilm let you preview their content, they let you watch movie trailers, they even let you search for films you might want to watch and better still, you haven’t had to give them any information yet!  It is your choice if you want to proceed further and engage with them in the form of a mutually agreed contract.  You haven’t been forced into something that you might regret later!

Spread the word!

So go forth and tell the tale of the benefits of Gradual Engagement to anyone who’ll listen.  Make your company some more money and don’t forget to tell them who told them about it when you ask for that bumper pay rise!

Thanks for reading.

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  1. Users have feelings too!