“Flickr users hate video. Digg users don’t want their site to become DiggSpace. Facebook users are sick and tired of application invites. Unfortunately for you, these companies couldn’t care less, and I’ll tell you why.”
There has been plenty of talk recently over whether social networks, or indeed any small loved app or site, which grow in both users and functionality, forget about their core idea which made them so great and loved in the first place. Twitter for instance is still relatively simple and holds true its original idea, whereas Digg are adding social networking tools, Flickr have added video support, amazon sell food, tesco sell insurance – okay maybe i’m over-extending. But the discussion is a valid one. Mashable, from which the quote above comes, propose the ‘screw you coefficient’ – one method of deciding whether a new piece of functionality or approach will make improved revenue for your one-time-blog-now-mega-super-app.com, contrasting loss of users against increased wonga.
Personally, whether its a commercial decision or not, I’m not sure adding 100s of new features is always a good thing. In fact, I lie, I’m sure it is not a good thing.
For instance, as i mentioned above, twitter does one thing, and does it extremely (mostly) well. They’ve created a well rounded API which allows others to extend their core functionality, but twitter.com itself is staying true to the central idea. They do need to be a little careful, recent interface changes are adding more and more links, @replies and following topics etc. etc. are neat additions, but much more and it could go the way of Microsoft Word – a 1000 new features, where most people only use a handful.
This is why 37signals tools are loved and arguably hated in equal measure. Their perceived ‘arrogance’ towards developing applications the way they see fit is actually keeping their tools simple and effective, rather than curtailing to pressure to add this, add that. Heck, I still use notepad.exe daily, i love gtalk’s simplicity over any other IM, my favourite colour is whitespace (its actually red but works for making my point), and fit for purpose is always better than bloat for possibility.
In creating the first few pages for disposablememoryproject.org, I had to remind myself of that. i’d started creating page after page after page, one for contact, one for the concept, one for every paragraph in essence, until I stopped myself. This could go on a single page – everything the user needs within one screen – bang! and the dirt is gone! So, I rehashed, and rebuilt into a single page. So much simpler.
Having to write the postcards/instructions was similar. I originally wrote a longer set of instructions, but realising the text limit restrictions on moo.com postcards, I had to sub sub sub, into just a few lines – and for the user – that is SO much better – bang! and the waffle is gone!
Applications are the same – simple fit for purpose tools to enable you to do what you need/want in a super simple, low barrier to entry, way. The problem comes when you find yourself switching between 20 apps to carry out each distinct task, thats when the argument for bloating your product appears – but honestly it shouldn’t need to. Open APIs and data portability aim to allow for interchange of data between all of these apps (that’s the plan anyway), leaving each app’s interface to do what IT does well.
Simple is good, simple is powerful, simple is relaxing.