The Informed Reader has a great post titled The Powerful Lure of the Useless Extra Feature that describes the problems facing, well, many products (and product lines) today. The article quotes The Wisdom of Crowds‘ James Surowieki, who explains that “…people are not, in general, good at predicting what will make them happy in the future. The strange truth about feature creep is that even when you give consumers what they want they can still end up hating you for it.”
What got me started down this train of thought was this provocative comparison between Cingular (AT&T) Wireless, a company with 200 cell phones and 50 pricing plans and CBeyond, a smaller company with four cell phones and eight service options. CBeyond is growing at a faster rate and generating much higher margins. Could it be that we really like simplicity, and just don’t know it?
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with my iPAQ PDA phone. It’s mind-numbingly capable, with built-in camera, GPS, web-browsing, music playing and spreadsheet crunching power. And it even makes phone calls. But for all the features and functionality, I often find myself wishing I had a plain, old phone. Something to just pick-up and dial. The reality is, though my iPAQ does in fact do all the things advertised, it doesn’t do any of them very well (including the phone call part).
Another comparison could be drawn on the web. Discussion forums (like BigBlueBall) and blogs (like this one) are two common expressions of the social web. Both allow some form of interaction between the author and the readers. Forums are feature-rich and complex. Blogs are (usually) bare-bones and simple, but painless. I realize it’s not an apple-to-apple comparison, as they each serve a specific purpose, but it’s worth noting that although blogs appeared on the scene later, they outstripped the growth rate of forums exponentially.
Where is this all leading? A reminder to myself that sometimes less really is more.