What makes a website tick? What makes a user stay on a page? What makes that same user share their web discoveries with one friend or one hundred? According to Henry Jenkins and his colleagues, all these questions can be answered by what they call “stickiness and spreadability.” In an article called “If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead,” Jenkins and Co. introduce these two new terms into digital terminology. Stickiness refers to how long a user will stay on a page and interact with it, while Spreadability refers to how share-able the site and its content are. The presence of both in a site is paramount to its lasting success in such a fast-paced, digital media-hungry culture. The article by Jenkins and his colleagues maps out nine distinctions between stickiness and spreadability, and an analysis of Pandora Internet Radio shows that the site is a case study on the effectiveness of striking a balance between the two to create a complete and engaging user experience.
1. “Stickiness seeks to attract and hold the attention of site visitors.”
Pandora is one of few free, reliable music websites that provides a space for customized radio stations of high-quality, unedited versions of songs by a wide range of artists. The site also does not assume that the user will know everything about navigating the site and provides detailed instructions for easy use; the unassuming nature of the site is very attractive and not intimidating to new users.
2. “Stickiness depends on concentrating the attention of all interested parties on a specific site or through a specific channel.”
Once inside Pandora, the user’s attention is immediately drawn to the eye-catching center of the page where the album art of the music playing. Passing the cursor over the album cover will cause the universally understood thumbs down and thumbs up symbols to appear. The thumbs down sign may be pictured first to emphasize to the user that their opinion matters, even if it’s negative. Between the thumbs is a small triangle that, when clicked, reveals new options.
When attention shifts to the upper left corner to begin taking in the rest of the page, the user will be prompted to search for “artists, genres, and composers.” Just to the right of the search bar are thumbs down and thumbs up signs, then follows the perfunctory play/pause button, skip button, and manual volume adjustment. The module on the left side holds all of the different stations the user has created. There is actually a small button below that display box that, when dragged, will enlarge the album art to enabling easier viewing. All of a user’s musical needs are contained in one memorable package.
3. “Stickiness depends on creating a unified consumer experience as consumers enter into branded spaces.”
The way Pandora lays out the album art and text in the upper right corner and in the center of the page mimics the display on an iPod. Since Apple has held the market in the digital music arena for so long, this layout is instantly familiar to many (if not most) users.
4. “Stickiness depends on prestructured interactivity to shape visitor experiences.”
Pandora users are not left floundering, wondering what to do with all of the features on the site. The interface Pandora uses is remarkable. Recognizable navigation and arrangement are complimented by detailed instructions and options that follow the user from the start.
5. “Stickiness typically tracks the migrations of individual consumers within a site.”
This can be described as the main goal of Pandora: the individual choosing of stations, liking and disliking of songs, adding artists to stations, or switching artists/ songs to a different station narrows the experience from infinity to the individual’s preferences.
6. “Under stickiness, a sales force markets to consumers.” The seemingly endless database of music is quite a convincing pull for users, and the playing of the music is its own advertising. Pandora also offers the option to purchase the song on different sites and in different formats for every single song it plays.
7. “Stickiness is a logical outgrowth of the shift from broadcasting’s push model to the web’s pull model.”
The push of Pandora rests in its similarity to traditional broadcast radio: random songs – within certain parameters – are played. However, the pull offers more interactivity; users can skip songs (they are allotted a certain number of skips due to licensing issues), like or dislike a song – a dislike automatically skips to the next track -, and adding variety to stations in the form of a new artist or even genre keeps the users happy and interested.
8. “Under stickiness, producers, marketers, and consumers are separate and distinct roles.”
In this sense, the producers are the orchestrators of the site, the ones who design the interface with maximum usability in mind. Marketers could be considered to be the bands included on the site who hope that users will enjoy the music enough to purchase the songs after listening. And users are the consumers, interacting with the site and enriching their own experience with their input.
9. “Stickiness depends on a finite number of channels for communicating with consumers.”
The channels that Pandora offers include the play of music; the options to share, purchase, put away, like/dislike, and organization of a song.
1. “Spreadability seeks to motivate and facilitate the efforts of fans and enthusiasts to ‘spread’ the word.”
Pandora affords users of the site an opportunity to participate in an in-site community where they can customize a profile that is visible to other users of the site. Although, customization is limited to profile picture, description of self; the site automatically updates activity, stations, bookmarks, likes, and followers/following.
These profiles can be used to follow other users, track thumbs up clicks on songs, bookmark artists, and see others’ created stations. Pandora also offers the ability to connect to Facebook and find friends who are also using Pandora.
Pandora has many different avenues of introducing content. The songs are played at random. The artists and bands have bio pages that offer a “similar artists” option at the bottom of the page, inviting the users to explore and continue on in the interface.
3. “Spreadability depends on creating a diversified experience as brands enter into the spaces where people already live and interact.”
Pandora deftly takes users from strangers to part of the online family in just a few easy steps. If the user is new to Pandora – an established destination for many – they will share the same initial experience with all other users. A page nearly empty except for a search box that prompts the user to type in an artist or song or composer appears. However, true to the design of the site, as the user spends more and more time providing feedback on the selections the site makes for their stations, the more personal the experience will become.
4. “Spreadability relies on open-ended participation as diversely motivated but deeply engaged consumers retrofit content to the contours of different niche communities.” – This quote is actually a great description of Pandora’s endgame. Realistically, there is no end to the processes that users can fiddle with.
5. “Spreadability maps the flow of ideas through social networks.”
The in-site community of users and the off-site sharing (Facebook) option reaches digital fingers out into the ever-growing web and sets a place-marker.
6. “Under spreadability, grassroots intermediaries become advocates for brands.”
The sharing of the media by the users is free advertising for the artists, no matter how famous or underground the band might be.
7. “Spreadability restores some aspects of the push model through relying on consumers to circulate the content within their own communities.“
The songs played on Pandora are chosen randomly at first, but as the user interacts with the site, the pool of tracks to draw from predictably dwindles. However, like a radio station, the listener is never quite sure what is going to play next. When the songs or ads play on the radio, the DJs know that not everyone will be around to hear it, so they often say, “Tell your friends! Invite your mom! Get everyone you know to call the station in ten minutes to win Justin Bieber tickets!” The same approach is employed on Pandora but in a much more subtle way: the social media outlets and the in-site community. They are “word of mouth” for a new age.
8. “Spreadability depends on increased collaboration across and even a blurring of the distinction between [the roles of producers, marketers, and consumers].”
The power of creativity that Pandora affords users is incredible. In creating and personalizing a station through the brilliantly designed interface, users become the producers. By spreading their stations or likes and dislikes on social media or the in-site community, the users market themselves and the artists included. And, as always, the stations are there for easy, delightful consumption.
9. “Spreadability takes for granted an almost infinite number of often localized and many times temporary networks through which media content circulates [unlike stickiness which has a finite number of circulation channels].”
Pandora stations are popular at parties, and users can text or email friends about new music they’ve discovered through the site. These two options of spreading media may not be permanent or intended for an infinite audience, but the media is nonetheless effectively spread.
Stickiness was described this way by Jenkins: “Stickiness reflected the assumptions of personalized media: its central unit is the individual consumer. As one writer explains, ‘Measuring stickiness means that you’ll have to track what individuals do, not just mass movements on your site.’ ” Pandora, as shown above, is a great example of making a site as complex as it is accessible and enjoyable to the individual web-surfer.
Jenkins and his co-writers said of spreadability: “The idea that the movement of messages from person to person, from community to community, over time increases their effectiveness, and expands their impact… [C]onsumers play an active role in ‘spreading’ content rather than being the passive carriers of viral media: their choices, their investments, their actions determine what gets valued in the new mediascape.” There is no question that the mobility and accessibility of the music on Pandora is creating a fuller adventure for the users and expanding their musical horizons.
Everyone starts in the same place.
But the path taken is an individual, engaging, sticky, spreadable mission that users are glad to take.
- “If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead: (Part Two): Sticky and Spreadable — Two Paradigms” (2/13/2009). Jenkins, Henry and Xiaochang Li, Ana Domb Krauskopf With Joshua Green.
- All images courtesy of Pandora