100 Trick Ponies: Tech and Clutterization

Can I please have an application that just does the one simple thing it’s supposed to? I feel like soon both iTunes and GMail are going to try to order my groceries for me.

– http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1653562

I found myself nodding in agreement when I came across this comment on Hacker News. In the business world, simplicity is a trait that is too often overlooked.

The Internet makes it easier than ever to bundle a bunch of different features into an online product or application. It doesn’t take any¬† programming knowledge to point your browser to http://www.wordpress.org/extend or to hire a freelance developer on the cheap.

But just because you can easily implement every feature under the sun doesn’t mean you should. This rule extends beyond the online world too.

One area where I see the “over-developing” disease a lot is in digital cameras. A lot of people will buy a certain type of digital camera because “it’s not just a camera.” I hear that phrase every time I’m in an electronics store. Maybe it has HD video or built-in editing capabilities or free software. All that stuff is well and good. But don’t let the most important question about the digital camera get lost in the fold: will it take good pictures?

On the web side, I’ve been guilty of adding features to a site just for the sake of doing it many times. Myself and a friend built a site for our university’s newspaper and I became so caught up in adding superfluous features just because they were “cool.” I spent way too much time focusing on extras like a complicated archives section. When we were finished, it turned out the actual site was a cluttered, distracting mess and I had lost site of the ultimate goal of the project. Will students go to this site and read the news? Not without another major redesign.

Pushing hard to come out with a new product feature or venture isn’t always bad. Look at Google, for example. The company has gone from being a search engine to what I’d call the largest media company in the world. It’s not so simple anymore. There is Google Voice, Gmail, Google Wave, YouTube and much more.

Yet as varied as Google’s interests are these days, they are still the best in the world at search. They are still obsessed over improving and evolving their search engine and that is reflected throughout everything the company does.

When it comes time to think about the next step or new feature for your venture, don’t forget about what made you successful in the first place. Greatness at one thing beats mediocrity at everything.