Web 2.0 is not only over hyped, but innovators add features to web applications to improve the user experience. Are these extra bells and whistles really improving our lives and making things easier?
To me, the answer to this question is a resounding no.
I don’t fault people for wanting to be diverse. I don’t fault innovators for wanting to innovate. However, I think that a narrower focus is better for survival in the long run.
Interestingly enough, I had this conversation with a close friend who inspired me to blog about a year ago. Blogging on broad topics, he said, was not ideal. Focus on one area; don’t go in different directions. Capture your audience first.
Initially, I didn’t think his advice was that sound. I think blogs can go all directions. After all, Darren Rowse said that your first 10,000 blog posts are always the worst. He’s right about that. But your first 10 blog posts are probably worse than your latter 90, and you improve as you go along. Brian Clark summed it up nicely by urging bloggers to write. You gain experience with every post, every comment, and every ounce of feedback.
But I digress. My concern is not so much about blogs. I still think some of the best blogs go many different ways, anyhow. Aaron had a point that doesn’t hold so much for bloggers as it does for web applications and sites. Two examples stand out in my mind:
The microblogging phenomenon: In July, I was super-ecstatic about Pownce. In fact, after reviewing its features, Pownce came out above Twitter. Since I used to tweet pretty often, this was a conflicting issue for me, and I was faced with a dilemma: where do I focus my attention? Here’s a site with a good load of features, and here’s a site with a whole lot of users. Would the users go to Pownce for more features, or would they stick with Twitter?
Instead of letting my Pownce judgment get in the way, I decided instead to stay with both Twitter and Pownce and give equal attention to both. Now, three months later, I am addicted to neither, but when it comes down to it, Twitter is the winner.
Why? The bottom line is that the extra features that Pownce offered started getting in the way of making Pownce a desirable microblogging application. Yes, replies are a wonderful addition to microblogging, and it would be nice to include that in Twitter, but Pownce’s extra features can simply be summed up as clutter. I don’t need clutter.
The social news networking phenomenon: The second issue would certainly be one that is close to my heart. I speak of nothing else but Digg. On day one, I evaluated the new changes and I didn’t like it. It’s now four weeks into this mess and I still don’t like it.
Digg succeeds as a social news site, or at least it did. It does not fare so well as a social news-Facebook hybrid site. Shouts are easily construed as spam, and when I was gone for the holidays two weeks ago, I notated in my profile that I’d be away and that I don’t want shouts. I was even kind enough not to disable shouts. When I returned, I had nearly 50 shouts from people asking me to Digg their stories. (Thanks for listening.)
Needless to say, I’ve since turned off shouts, and apparently other Diggers are catching on. Earlier, I observed that it’s hard to even pick out good stories from Digg’s upcoming list because there are posts there that are so easily gamed through shouts. Digg is no longer being a social news network of providing quality news. Rather, Digg is becoming a network that can be easily manipulated where preference goes to those stories that are thrown in front of people’s faces when many clearly don’t want them.
I disabled shouts for two reasons: it detracts from the social news experience (I want my news, I want to vote on my preferred news with that decision being mine and mine alone, and I want to comment within the stories that interest me), and unnecessary information (read: spam) is being sent to me without me opting in. Again, it’s an issue of the attention economy and whether or not these features are really enhancing users’ experience. I certainly feel that these features killed usability and did nothing to benefit the user unless it Digg is advocating spam or wants to emulate a social network that it clearly is not.
A recent note posted (ironically) on Pownce got me wondering about what works. I think there’s a real problem when there are so many social networks begging for our attention. Worse, it is awful when you see three of your friends flocking to one social network while four of your other friends choose another one. What is the best, and why? Should diversity prevail?
There’s certainly a tug-of-war of social sites that are calling for my attention nowadays and I don’t know where to go.
I think, however, that there’s one easy answer: simplicity wins.