Measuring site engagement: A means that has become an end.

Engagement is the level of interaction and duration that a user is on the site.

While product teams themselves keep the site/app’s features oriented around the product’s larger goals (e.g., helping people share photos, helping people communicate in general), metrics of engagement are used by product marketing teams to show advertisers that it’s worthwhile to buy ads on a site or app.¬†Engagement was never meant to be an end in itself, but to figure out what the users are doing, and see if the product is meeting its original goals.

Gradually over the course of a company focusing more and more on monetizing, these engagement metrics play a bigger and bigger role in dictating product decisions, spurred by a marketing team seeking more advertisers, and, ultimately, management seeking more revenue.

When engagement takes a front seat, we start seeing the product’s original goals being uncomfortably edged out. Where once Facebook’s goal was to let people share stuff with each other and see who’s connected to who, now their goal seems to be to draw back as many eyeballs to the newsfeed as possible (where the ads are) by lighting up the ‘home’ link with a red jewel as soon as there’s new content.

Surely someone on the design team understood that a news feed jewel would be counterproductive to the user’s goals (eg. reading inbox messages with their undivided attention and responding without distraction). But that usability wisdom got swept away by the product team or management when the promise of more eyeballs was proposed.

Now the question is: can we hack the standard list of engagement metrics to be tailored more towards a product’s original goals and value mission, and avoid engagement metrics from being focused on just monetization and catering to advertisers?

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