Tag Archive for software design

Don’t Be Offended If I No Longer Follow You

This is my open letter to people I follow on Twitter. Please don’t be offended if I unfollow you. It’s nothing personal, unless you are a spammer or troll in which case it’s definitely personal. Otherwise, it’s not really about you.

Most of the culling that I have done in the past few weeks has to do with information overload. I am being sprayed in the face with the Twitter firehose and can’t drink from it fast enough. That means that I don’t read most posts anymore. At best I glance through them and hope something catches my eye… which is almost never does. I follow a modest amount of people and companies on Twitter, fewer than I do on LinkedIn or Facebook. Even so, the volume of messages is overwhelming. Organizing tweeters into lists hasn’t helped. If I fail to check twitter for more than a few hours, I am hopelessly behind so I read nothing.

This is the core problem of Twitter – there’s just too much information for mere mortals to absorb. The volume of messages is so large that only lists and searches matter if you actually want to read what people post. And some people post like mad. One of my criteria for unfollowing has been excessive posts. After a while my brain begins to do a bit of its own filtering and I unintentionally ignore posts from people who appear to have their own firehouse going. Add to this corporate posts that I really have to read and posts from people who I find incredibly interesting and I’m swamped.

Oddly, Twitters success is its problem. All of these posts leave precious little brain-space for advertisements. Twitter needs to monetize tweets and there are only a few ways to do that. They can sell access to the firehose for analysis that marketers want. They are doing this through their Gnip acquisition. Selling ads, however, is tougher. It’s not only that people hate ads (it doesn’t seem to occur to many people that this pays for the service) but that ads get lost in the river of posts. The volume of posts renders all advertising subliminal. If it registers at all, it has to be in the subconscious.

A huge volume of tweets is, in of itself, just plain frustrating. It’s like an assembly line that never stops, promising to overwhelm us at all times, yet leaves us in fear of missing something vital. Ultimately, it becomes obvious that we can’t keep up so we give up. And that’s the worst possible scenario for Twitter. If fewer people are listening, then fewer people will be posting and the bottom will drop out of the Twitter game.

To fix this, Twitter needs to add some intelligence to their platform. Not the various clients like Hootsuite or Twitters own web and mobile applications but the platform itself. Twitter the platform needs features that can help separate the important from the not-so-important and downright trivial. Filters and lists are not enough. Tweets need to be intelligently ranked. That’s something that belongs in the backend not the client. Perhaps this is something that Twitter can get from their relationship with IBM – use IBM Watson to make a more intelligent Twitter. They need to do what email vendors are doing right now – help separate the messaging wheat from the chaff.

In the meantime, I have no choice but to remove some people and get the overall volume down. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you anymore, just that I can’t listen to you all the time.

User Experience Trumps Feature Load

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.