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Gradual engagement is the process of moving a user through an application or service – actually engaging with it, and seeing it's benefits. With gradual engagement, new users are not just presented with a registration form and then dropped off a cliff (typical process in many Web applications).
Instead, registration is either postponed, or handled behind the scenes and the first time experience is focused on giving people an understanding of how they can use a service and why they should care to.
[lukew.com...] - with screen captures of before and after
Heavy users of Web application don't get that way over night. What kinds of things do they do over time that we should pay attention to?
When you watch people who are new to Web applications they are not clearly producers or consumers. Need to understand how people's use changes over time. Need to ensure people become good consumers first, then good producers second.