The virtues of scarcity on the web

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of information, the diversity of product offers or the multitude of choices to make? One option is to rely on recommendations of a friend or opinions of other users. Another mechanism is scarcity. Indeed, we attribute a lot of value to things of limited availability or that are being promoted as scarce. It's an old advertising principle: This category is sold out, 14 remaining of that one. Hurry, or you'll be too late. And who wants to lag behind?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of information, the diversity of product offers or the multitude of choices to make? One option is to rely on recommendations of a friend or opinions of other users. Another mechanism is scarcity. Indeed, we attribute a lot of value to things of limited availability or that are being promoted as scarce. It's an old advertising principle: "This category is sold out, 14 remaining of that one". Hurry, or you'll be too late. And who wants to lag behind?

If we transfer this principle to Human computer interaction, it makes sense to limit the options because scarecity may enforce quality! A good example is "Foodspotting", a community site where food lovers can post their favorite dishes they took pictures of. The twist is that  you have limited "awards" to hand out and you have to earn them by being an active member of the community. Result? You can assume that the dishes with high ranking on this site are really worth the detour.

Another well-known example of scarcity is the famous 140 character limitation imposed by twitter, (originally due to SMS limitations) which has generated entire seminars around the question on how to best formulate your tweets to reach your target audience.

Imagine if people on Facebook could only give one "I like it" per day...wouldn't that be a lot more meaningful than what we have today?

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About the author

Julia Borkenhagen
Julia Borkenhagen

Julia is a certified usability analyst by HFI (Human Factors International) with over 15 years of experience in user research, interface design, usability testing and project management.
Prior to joining blue-infinity, Julia worked several years for the San Francisco based agency Digitas on the dell.com account and as the lead web producer for NIKU, now CA Technologies.
Julia has been with blue-infinity since 2005 and is leading our in-house User Experience practice.