With Wings As Eagles: Craig P. Steffen's Blog

Too Many Features

2011 April 08 19:52

Here's a nickel's of free advice, to anyone who creates products or anyone who is in charge of marketing them. There is a optimal point where a product/system/computer/car/whatever has enough features that it's really useful, but adding more features is just making more complicated and bogging it down. That is, there is such a thing as too many features.

I love the concept of twitter. I think that travelogues on twitter are terribly interesting (I went from moderately interested to seriously interested in twitter a couple of years ago when, in the midst of a long and cold winter, Neil Gaiman said "sod it, I'm driving south" and did, and tweeted is minor adventures on the way. I love that if I'm out of data range on my phone, I can send (and receive!) tweets on the text message screen of my phone.

Up until now, the web interface was very clean and basic as well. Just a screen full of the tweets of the people that you follow. It did have an automagic updated, so that you'd knew when there were new ones. But by and large the page was static. It was fast to scroll around, because it was STATIC. Let me say it again--STATIC. Static means that the page gets loaded once and the browser is in charge of moving stuff around. This is, as my wife would say, "web 1.0" and that's true.

But Twitter's been pushing out a new version, and I've been resisting. I tried the new version, but its layout is way too wide for my netbook screen so I have to scroll sideways to get to the actual links on the right side. So I went back immediately. "New" Twitter showed up weeks ago, I tried it, and I've ignored it ever since. Well, this evening I was working on something, and to follow a list I clicked over to new twitter (the old one can't follow lists), and I went to switch back--AND I CAN'T. It won't let me switch back. What the Bloody Fucking Hell?!?

Web 2.0 is great in concept. I understand the impulse. If every page has a billion scripts running in the background, they can all parse what it is your'e doing and have results ready when you click on something. That's good as far as it goes. But that means all these scripts are running...and running...and running...and every time you move your moust on such a page, a hundred scripts start running and anticipating what it is you're going to click on. Which means that the browser itself (which is what makes you scroll smoothly) is having to fight for enough CPU time to actually move the page.

Which brings me to my point. For any device, or web page, or whatever, there is a point where there are TOO MANY FEATURES. A new, brilliant device has familiar features and maybe one brillant one that's either totally new or combined with familiar features in a new, innvative way. Designers need to understand to stop there. Continuall adding features just distorts and dilutes what's good about something until it's so full of crap that the next new, tight thing looks good in comparison.

Facebook is the ultimate expression of this. Its design is awful. I only stay on facebook because I'm FB friends with cousins of mine and that's the only real contact I have with them. The only time I go into FB's configuration is to turn off some new crap that they added.

Facebook did do something right once. They instituted "facebook lite", which was at lite.facebook.com. It was a stripped down site, with just your timeline/wall on the page and just a couple of links that brought up menus and such. It was fantastic. And then after less than a month, it went away.

So now I'm locked out of old Twitter, apparently forever. I've complained to a couple of the in-system support addresses. I wandered over to the "new features" list page, and at the top of it is a video. Get that? A VIDEO, to explain to me what the new features are. I don't want new features; Twitter had absolutely the optimal feature set. I think that building re-tweets into the site was one more feature than they needed, but that wasn't that much too much. Scrolling down the intro video (which I didn't play), there are text explanations of things. They apparently embed photos and videos that people link to into the page. Great. So instead of going to Youtube, to see videos on their site (which is pretty tight and streamlined, in fact), now they're pulled into twitter whether I click on them or not.

And aside from that, it runs slow. Twitter is a simple concept. Why does it need a full-of-crap bloatware site to serve it up? Why? Who came to a pitch meeting and said "We have a simple site, the envy of the web. Let's instead bloat it up like Facebook and make it suck!"

Douglas Adams talked about this 10 years ago, back when the web was fairly new. He made the point that often, a new idea is an old idea with something taken out. (His example is the Sony Walkman. It took the stereo, and took out the speakers and the heavy bits, and created an entirely new way of listening to music.)

I'm really angry that Twitter has apparently jumped the shark and is turning the site into over-scripted, overproduced web crap. So to other designers/inventors/programmers/engineers out there: remember, there is such a thing as too many features. Don't go there. Stop before you get there, and you and your product will be better for it.