As I was conducting my research on the enterprise chat segment of the collaboration and communication market, I reviewed a number of products in that space. What struck me most was the simplicity of the products. Not that the code wasn’t complex – a lot of what these products do required extensive engineering – but I was impressed by how simple and clean the user experience was. Most of these product were highly intuitive. They were designed to be easy to understand and easy to use. Honestly, the learning curve on these products was negligible.
This is a primary example where the user experience trumps the temptation to pile on feature after feature. This is a common tendency in software design. In an attempt to differentiate from other products in a market segment, companies add more and more features to a product until it no longer resembles the original intent of the designers. Software that once solved a simple but important set of problems for end-users becomes a tangled mess of rarely used features. Instead of true innovation, software companies enter into a type of arms race with each copying the so-called “best” features of their competitors and adding more obscure features that the others feel compelled to copy.
That’s not to say that there isn’t room for innovative features. Enterprise chat products have unique features that address certain types of customers and their use cases. At present, vendors haven’t allowed added features to drown out the core set of characteristics that make enterprise chat useful in the first place including ease-of-use.
Given the number of companies in the space, it is likely that eventually they too will enter into a features arms race. The need to compete on features rather than whole product (pricing, service, delivery options, etc.) is too compelling. If this does happen, it will be dripping with irony since these products are exploiting the feature bloat in current communications and collaboration products. This is already happening in the consumer space where products such as Facebook Messenger is “evolving” into a gaming and payments platform and its competitors are following suit. Pretty soon, consumer chat products will drift far enough away from what made people want to use it in the first place that their original purpose be undetectable.
There is still time for enterprise chat companies to sidestep this problem. They can consider line extensions and complimentary products, leaving the core chat products alone. There is room for some well-chosen features that enhance the user experience and make IT admins happy. Other than that, enterprise chat vendors should leave a good thing alone.