Why more features is good and Word is actually a good program
The following hit me yesterday evening... This will sound strange, but hear me out.
Almost everyone I know (including myself) thinks that the modern software is too complex. Most people think that cell phones are too complex, too, with bells and widgets they never use. People feel at loss in the face of all this complexity, and wonder, why they need to pay for the 80% of the features that they just don't need. Companies use massive amounts of money to usability design, and still fail to produce things that everyone could immediately use without leafing through manuals. This disease of adding more and more functionality is called "featuritis", and Microsoft Word is often the most touted example of it: why does a word processor have so many features nobody ever uses?
I think - and this is admittedly a slightly absurd leap - the fundamental reason lies with the Long Tail (i.e. the concept of "something for everyone").
The Long Tail is based on the idea that there is a lot of value in addressing the niches. Traditionally, business revolves around "hits" - the top 500 companies, or the most-selling books, or the most common demographics of the viewers, or the most common sports, or the most common brands of dishwashers, or the most common operating system. You want to address the majority of the market, because trying to address everyone is more trouble than it's worth.
However, with the internet, when you don't have to consider limited storage space that much anymore, you can start to address even the smallest niches. You can go to CafePress and sell T-shirts with your own face. Google is very good at finding niche stuff, and less good at finding just generic fluff. Amazon has over ten times the catalog size of your average book shop. Even the most obscure song in iTunes still sells a copy or two each month, making money. On IMDB, it does not really matter whether a movie is popular or not: everything gets treated the same. These companies are taking advantage in the value of serving the niches - and for them, it's not any more expensive as doing anything else.
Now, if you head over to the standard application space, and imagine that you would like to sell a word processor for the niches - a word processor to address the Long Tail, if you please - I think the end result would be something like Word. Each feature of Word is important to some minority somewhere, be it even as small as a single person. And this is what makes it so successful, yet so universally disliked. Maybe how the Word presents all these features is not optimal, but it's doing that well enough to be extremely successful (document format lock-in and deals with the OEMs do not hurt either).
So, to me, it seems that featuritis (and the apparent complexity) is an unmanaged attempt to address the Long Tail. I am sure Google's and Amazon's servers (with personal recommendations) are incredibly complex, but this is not something that is apparent to the user. Their featuritis is managed, and could be simply labelled as "good service".
I think that the most important lesson of the Long Tail is not that it's there - because we all know that it exists; people just choose to disregard it when making business decisions - but that if you want to address it, you must think about it in advance in order to not get flooded by featuritis. Think about how you will scale, and how you will offer new features to users in such a way that does not overwhelm them.
It's not inherently evil to make something that is complex and has a lot of features. You just need to plan for it.
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|"Main_blogentry_240206_1" last changed on 24-Feb-2006 18:02:01 EET by JanneJalkanen.|