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September 4, 2010 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Simplicity is highly overrated. Why people prefer feature-bloat.
posted by leotrotsky (133 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Joel Spolsky responds
posted by leotrotsky at 9:09 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why people prefer feature-bloat.

I don't.
Honestly.
I don't.
posted by philip-random at 9:17 PM on September 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


I want something with the features I need. The more features you pack on the more likely the product fits. In an ideal world, there would be no features I don't need in the product but extra is better than not enough.

Give me the two buttons washing machine please.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:20 PM on September 4, 2010


I don't like feature bloat ... but I use that one feature that no one else uses...
It's too bad that everyone else also has one feature that they need that no one else needs.
posted by yeoz at 9:26 PM on September 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Joel Spolsky responds

heh. He uses the iPod as an example there, which is a pretty good example, except it's fundamentally tied to iTunes, which is a hideous example of feature crammed bloatware.
posted by Artw at 9:26 PM on September 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


The washing machine sounds great. I'll bet it can tell when the wife's sitting on it, too. Shazam!

Seriously though, that's where Apple's on the money - the iPhone appears simple in design but complex in its capabilities while remaining simple to operate.
posted by randomyahoo at 9:28 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder why MS-DOS didn't have any pop-up ads, or at least, interrupts to verify that you'd like to cooperate with some important OS activity.
C:> dir
Abort, Retry, BEEP
User interaction required to allocate upper mem page.
Would you like to allocate a page buffer now?
Yes, No, Cancel
To automate allocation of upper memory, please mail a check in the amount of $20 to
Microsoft
Redmond, WA
Hit any key to view your directory listing
Hit F12 to view it in colors (your account will be charged $0.99 for colors)
posted by nervousfritz at 9:28 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Should've previewed. Should've read Spolsky too, apparently. iTunes has feature bloat for sure, but with the iPhone and the iPod touch you can almost cut it right out of the equation. I'm not dull, but I haven't figured out smart playlists yet. Huh.
posted by randomyahoo at 9:31 PM on September 4, 2010




which is a hideous example of feature crammed bloatware.

So is it a hideous example of feature-crammed bloatware or is it an example of hideous feature-crammed bloatware?
posted by joe lisboa at 9:35 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have an iPhone, and like it, but it's probably the most famous case in the history of technology of something lacking features it clearly needs, and that any reasonable user would expect (although these do tend to get added in new versions after enough complaints).

Examples:
Cut-and-paste
Multi-tasking (can't play music and do something else? really??)
Compass
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:37 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


joe lisboa: "So is it a hideous example of feature-crammed bloatware or is it an example of hideous feature-crammed bloatware?"

Yes.
posted by octothorpe at 9:38 PM on September 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh and who can forget "camera zoom?" No one wants that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:38 PM on September 4, 2010


except it's fundamentally tied to iTunes, which is a hideous example of feature crammed bloatware

There's a good article here on how to disable some of iTunes 10's latest features.

I agree that iTunes is bloatware. One thing that it has managed to do well in spite of itself is that new features are annoying and useless, but they mostly, with few exceptions, stay out of the way of older, more useful features. You can still get to the basic functionality of things without the new cruft getting in the way.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:39 PM on September 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


So is it a hideous example of feature-crammed bloatware or is it an example of hideous feature-crammed bloatware?

Apparently now it's a social network. Bet you they haven't fixed my persistant syncing problem though.
posted by Artw at 9:40 PM on September 4, 2010


(can't play music and do something else? really??)

Huh? The iPod/iPhone could always do this.
posted by dobbs at 9:41 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love Simplenote. It does exactly one thing. And it does it so well that I never have to think about how to use it or whether it will work. It's as close to perfection as any software I've ever used.

It just added tagging. I pray it's not the beginning of feature bloat.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:43 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently now it's a social network.

For the record I was not trying to be a dick, just speaking as an outsider to this topic trying to parse your adjective placement, no snark intended.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:45 PM on September 4, 2010


> Give me the two buttons washing machine please.

We have a fancy washing machine that has its own LCD screen, and a bewildering array of options available. You can also wash most loads by just pressing the on and start buttons. That's how it should be. Give me lots of customization and variables, but also make it easy to just start the standard defaults without thinking about it.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:46 PM on September 4, 2010 [27 favorites]


Why don't you all just say whats coming to your mind.

I'll give you a hint: (special snowflake details inside).
posted by hal_c_on at 9:48 PM on September 4, 2010


We have a newer LG washer and dryer. The interface is mostly simple but the features are, well, unexpectedly numerous for a washer and dryer. And we didn't get the model with the steam cleaning feature. I'm not complaining but it is a different experience and one that does jibe with that of the author's.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:49 PM on September 4, 2010



Huh? The iPod/iPhone could always do this.


Not the 3rd party apps.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:53 PM on September 4, 2010


There isn't anything missing in the feature set of an ipod (on preview - okay, the old ones not the touch): the apparent simplicity is a result of good design, not lots of design. Designs get overwrought when too little thought is applied to the problem yet all the features are present. The practice of sneezing related features all over a menu structure is what plagues MS Word, for example. I suspect multiplication of controls, a bad thing in most environments, comes from the practice of plugging in {feature} without due consideration of how it's used.

FAA - US Federal Aviation Administration - certification of aircraft instruments is an example of how simplicity of operation can be enforced. The amount of "pilot workload" involved in changing instrument functions is evaluated and FAA pilots - who are both experienced and voluble - give the definitive opinion on how an instrument design works. If there are too many steps, the path from one function to another isn't clear, consistent and easy to find, or the buttons don't give adequate feedback, you hear about it and the TSO (technical standard order) authorization, the certificate you need to put the instrument into a commercial airplane, waits until things are right. In the case of avionics this is critical; in the case of commercial products it's only a perceived finished-ness. Which I am happy to pay for.
posted by jet_silver at 9:55 PM on September 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Size is an exercise in import. I went through size small to size large and realized this: leaders get to choose and you have to take it if you want to be with a leader, even if you don't get the support you need long-term. For definition see "Microsoft".
posted by parmanparman at 9:55 PM on September 4, 2010


Everyone wants a different subset of a large set of features.

Didn't Microsoft try a Windows option that hid your infrequently used menu options?
posted by pracowity at 10:01 PM on September 4, 2010


I hate feature bloat as much as the next MeFi member, but it seems to be what sells product. Just the other day I heard an ad for a car company, I think it was Ford, with a "customer" talking about how they bought their new car because it had all the features that they wanted. Whereas I love driving a car that has fewer buttons and fewer layers of "features" that have to be remembered and deciphered and interpreted. But guess who buys cars?
posted by Forktine at 10:09 PM on September 4, 2010


Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


I tell my students that achieving complexity is easy: you just keep piling on details, to rococo excess. For that reason, and others, designers often find complexity seductive: it impresses clients and makes it look like you've earned your pay. In reality, it's simplicity that is difficult to achieve. It's not impossible - there are cultural strains harkening for simplicity that have been in existence for hundreds of years, right to the present day - but it does take discipline and a certain serenity to achieve.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:17 PM on September 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't like feature bloat ... but I use that one feature that no one else uses...
It's too bad that everyone else also has one feature that they need that no one else needs.


It's kind of like how everyone's a libertarian ... except for their little list of things they really want government to do, which of course people don't agree on.
posted by John Cohen at 10:22 PM on September 4, 2010 [20 favorites]


How is the response from 2006 when the article it's responding to is from 2007?
posted by John Cohen at 10:23 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


“Why can’t products be simpler?” cries the reviewer in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the local newspaper. “We want simplicity” cry the people befuddled by all the features of their latest whatever. Do they really mean it? No.

After we upgraded to the new Office at work -- the one with the new "ribbon" IF a guy above me starts bitching about it.

"It needs to be simple and they make it so complicated" - he says. Or something to that effect (this was a couple years ago)

Then he goes on to talk about how he couldn't figure out how to add the physical file path to the footer of the file. "It's such an obvious thing." he says

--

But he totally fails to realize that it's actually a rather esoteric issue for most people. why on earth would you need to include the file path in a printed copy of a file? Well, of course if it's on a file server for everyone at work, the path is basically a URL that anyone can use to reach it (but not really, since different groups use different drive letters for paths. But whatever)

And everyone has one or two esoteric features that they totally need but are oblivious to the fact that they just happen to be in the 1% of the population that needs that feature.

People want things to be simple, and just do what they want. But that's never going to happen, because what people want is divergent.
Huh? The iPod/iPhone could always do this.
Not if you were using another app to play music.

--
Didn't Microsoft try a Windows option that hid your infrequently used menu options?
I had a version of office that did that. It worked really well. I'm not sure why they got rid of it, I guess people couldn't figure out how to expand the menus. And I think windows 2000 had the same deal on the start menu. It worked well for me.

I also remember someone bitching about a Microsoft product called Developer Studio. They were coming from Linux and complaining about how much screen space was wasted on random buttons. What they didn't realize was that the button bar was totally customizable. I think I had like 3 or 4 buttons on mine.

People want everything to be exactly as they want it without the need to actually go through and figure out how to customize it

And as a result, software interfaces are really dumbed down.

posted by delmoi at 10:29 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Linux has an interesting place in this debate. Most everyone uses either Gnome or KDE, and they take exactly opposite positions on this. Gnome typically has a few options which are usually of trivial importance, and KDE typically has three billion, many of are poorly implemented or don't work at all.

I don't know which I prefer, honestly. Gnome often tends to be missing options that are deal-breakers, and often it's stuff where you can't believe anyone sane would ever take it out. On the other hand, KDE has a lot of strange behaviors and just doesn't seem to work that well, and it could be bloat that's responsible.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:37 PM on September 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I know I still use complex google syntax for simple searches because it makes me feel more in control.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:41 PM on September 4, 2010


Taking anecdotes from South Korea re: complexity in design is really cherry-picking. Koreans are notorious for mistaking mere complexity for good design when it comes to consumer electronics (and a lot of other things, IMO).

But god forbid you install Firefox on an office computer and not run Explorer. Eegads, heads will roll. (And the computer will die in short order due to a pile of viruses and malware.)

/end rant

Interestingly, the iPhone does seem to be catching on here a bit. I thought for sure Samsung would work its magic to make sure it never saw the light of day in Seoul or further south.
posted by bardic at 10:44 PM on September 4, 2010


Darker text on a lighter background at a larger size would be a feature I'd appreciate to make reading that blog easier. (It's not like it was even an aesthetically-pleasing combination to even make it an understandable decision.)

My mom is a classic "features" buyer. If you tell her you want (say) a simple quality tote bag for the holidays, here's the model, price, etc., she cannot bring herself to not buy a cheaply made horror which is the same price but look at all of these extras! More pockets, wheels, detachable straps, four zippers, etc., etc.

I like tools, and in the world of tools, it kind of works in the opposite direction: most people just want, say, a single screwdriver that might be more complex but is suitable anytime you need a screwdriver (say, a handle with multiple tips stored inside of it). The tool enthusiast would much prefer a large selection of single-use screwdrivers, each very simple, but with the entire collection just as complex if not even more so than the universal screwdriver.

I think, generally speaking, the more a person is into a particular subject, the more they go for more individual simple tools, while the more they look at a particular subject as a chore they want one tool with every feature they may possibly need.
posted by maxwelton at 10:47 PM on September 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Eh. Whether or not it is simple or complex, I just want it to be elegant.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 10:52 PM on September 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


vi
posted by b1tr0t at 10:52 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


But god forbid you install Firefox on an office computer and not run Explorer. Eegads, heads will roll. (And the computer will die in short order due to a pile of viruses and malware.)


I thought Korea was locked into Microsoft because their government had mandated a type of encryption for banking, etc., that was Microsoft-specific?
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:55 PM on September 4, 2010


ed_
posted by Pinback at 11:01 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here are a bunch of bold assertions backed up by anecdotes. Look, I went to a country outside the United States, I must know what I'm talking about. What's more, it was an Asian country. You know Asians and their gadgets! No, I don't think I'll mention any of the actual quantitative research conducted on this issue. In conclusion, counterintuitive claim that makes my essay memorable. Thank you.
posted by No-sword at 11:01 PM on September 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


In my last graph, change "tools" to "items." For example, someone really into home theater might want a million separate devices which each do one thing well whereas someone who just wants to watch TV simply wants a TV. However, the person who simply wants a TV is going to be more afraid of buying a single device that might now have a feature they may need or want in the future and hence will buy a very complex TV in the hopes of not having to supplement it with another device in the future.
posted by maxwelton at 11:02 PM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


What's amazing now is what passes for complex. The best example I can think of in software that I use regularly is OmniFocus, the task management app for Mac OS X.

OmniFocus is, to the use the words of Fraser Speirs, a "general purpose package" meaning it doesn't mean much to you until you put your data in. But at it's heart, OmniFocus is a very simple outlining application specifically for to-do list items that captures three pieces of critical data (The name of the task, the project it is associated with, and the person, place, or tool you need to complete the task) along with some less important data (yes, a dizzying array if you input it for every task).

In theory, you can OmniFocus as a flat list application right in its inbox and just type things you need to do and cross them off. But since OmniFocus exposes its more powerful features without telling you exactly how to use them, it appears to be mystical, complex, and hard to understand.

To keep with the appliance analogies, LG could make a washing machine that allows you to select the exact temperature of the water, speed of spinning, motion of agitation, length of cycles, and amount and timing of detergent, bleach, and fabric softener. LG could design an interface that made this easy to use. But the washer wouldn't sell since there's too much work to do. It's too "complex" to set all that for your laundry.

What people want is not features and benefits. They want presets. Lots of presets. They want to be able to tell a machine exactly what they want but not have to think about how it gets there. That's why the blank white slate is the most complex interface of all. It could morph into almost anything.
posted by Taco John at 11:07 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, maybe that was too harsh. But I still feel like this essay is oversimplified to the point of uselessness. There are people and companies who buy based on "simplicity" (that is, less time spent futzing around) rather than just on "number of features" (although I don't deny that feature-lovers do exist). So what are the proportions like? What factors are correlated with the split? Industry? Age? Geography? Intended purpose? Maybe this guy knows, but after reading his essay I sure don't.
posted by No-sword at 11:07 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Didn't Microsoft try a Windows option that hid your infrequently used menu options?

It was Office from 2000 onwards, and it sucked donkey balls: The shifting menus customize the computer to be unusable to everybody else and train the user to be unable to use another computer, particularly since it was mostly enabled by non-proficient users.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:08 PM on September 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


This seems like the perfect time for me to bring up the need for Metafilter to allow a more flexible interface. Why blue? Why always blue? And why not have a more flexible commenting textarea, one that you could drag to a larger size? And why not allow me to ignore all those comments that haven't earned at least one favorite? Most people would prefer that Metafilter allowed adjustable font sizes. Our focus groups have indicated that MetaTalk isn't desirable. My great-aunt in Tallahassee has complained about Metafilter's lack of images and video. My gut feeling is that the whole site would be more successful if there were fewer outgoing links and more internal links.

Together we make Metafilter better..
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:10 PM on September 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd rather a quality set of common screwdrivers because those little bits in universals end up lost and they don't seem to hold up nearly as well as good screwdrivers do. Universals are nice to have around too, especially if you don't use torx/robertson/etc. screws often.

Bicycle racing drives the same forces in the bike world too... you can get bikes with 90 gears if you want.
posted by glip at 11:11 PM on September 4, 2010


"I thought Korea was locked into Microsoft because their government had mandated a type of encryption for banking, etc., that was Microsoft-specific?"

That might be. I know that if I want to log in to my university account to enter grades or look at my virtual pay-stubs I can only get in with Explorer. So my work computer is horribly clogged with malware, and I don't dare log in with my home computer.

I really love Korea. But the valuation of the appearance of complexity and newness over things actually being useful is a definite pet-peeve. To put it another way, a bad plan is considered to be better than no plan at all. IMHO, of course.
posted by bardic at 11:11 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Forktine wrote: "Whereas I love driving a car that has fewer buttons and fewer layers of "features" that have to be remembered and deciphered and interpreted. But guess who buys cars?"

Personally, I like cars with lots of features. However, I should not have to be able to use them all to operate the car in a basic manner. I should be able to get in, turn a key or press a button and drive the car with a steering wheel and two or three pedals.

The Bluetooth, reverse camera, heated and ventilated seats, radio, climate control, navigation, and whatever else are great, but if it were necessary to know about them to operate the vehicle, that would be a serious user interface flaw.

Complexity and simplicity can coexist peacefully, it's just that it's rare for anyone to get it right. You've got Apple on the one hand whose software often lacks useful features to keep it simple, and on the other you've got Microsoft and most everyone else, whose software has everything but the kitchen sink, but has a morass of menus to navigate through to do simple things or an incredibly complex toolbar with a hundred different icons in the default UI.

XBMC is a great example of software which gets it right. By default, it's incredibly simple to use. You don't see most of the features unless you need them, yet it can do almost anything you'd want a media center to do, if you delve into the myriad options. It scales to the user's level of competence.

More XBMC and less Apple and Microsoft, please.
posted by wierdo at 11:12 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


A few years ago I spent the summer working in Shanghai. My apartment there had one of those remote-controlled, ceiling-mounted air conditioner units in each room. Being an American, I naturally can't read any Chinese text, so the remote control for the A/C unit was a complete mystery. There were a few actual symbols, and the first night there I was able to get the thing blowing cool air on me (a welcome thing in the humid Shanghai summer).

I fell asleep that first night under the blissful cool breeze of the A/C, my refuge from the sauna that was the outside air. About three hours later, I wake up completely covered in sweat, laying on a damp silhouette of my own making. The A/C had inexplicably gone from "cool" mode to "inferno" mode, blasting me with hot air. I managed to turn it back to cooling mode long enough to get to sleep.

After two nights of this I eventually figured out what buttons were responsible for the 3 AM hell-mode switch. Why anyone would ever, ever have a "cool, then hot after three hours" mode on an air conditioner is far beyond my imagination.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:15 PM on September 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


To keep with the appliance analogies, LG could make a washing machine that allows you to select the exact temperature of the water, speed of spinning, motion of agitation, length of cycles, and amount and timing of detergent, bleach, and fabric softener. LG could design an interface that made this easy to use. But the washer wouldn't sell since there's too much work to do. It's too "complex" to set all that for your laundry.

What people want is not features and benefits. They want presets. Lots of presets.


I left Omnifocus a while back because I thought it took too much work to get it to do what I wanted it to do. I understood the application, but it took too much effort to use it. I recently came back to Omnifocus and started using 'perspectives'. Finally, the application worked for me. At the push of a button (icon) I could get the information I needed.

I guess you could say perspectives are my presets.
posted by justgary at 11:40 PM on September 4, 2010


RE: 0xFCAF. In some places, especially deserts or other places with little cloud cover and little ability to keep heat, temperatures can change very quickly and you may want air conditioning at 5PM and heating at 8PM.
posted by curuinor at 11:43 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


All I know is that I got disgusted with the amount of crap-removal required to turn Ubuntu Lucid into anything resembling a comfortable desktop environment for me, and ditched it in favor of Xfce on Debian Testing. Much happier now.
posted by flabdablet at 11:44 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why anyone would ever, ever have a "cool, then hot after three hours" mode on an air conditioner is far beyond my imagination.

There is an inexplicable belief that I've encountered in both Japan and Vietnam - so maybe in China it is also around - that sleeping with the A/C on makes a person sick. Now, I would suggest that sleeping with the A/C on keeps me sleeping peacefully and not sweating into the bed, but this feature could be related. (On a side note you're lucky yours had Chinese characters on it; mine had totally unrelated heiroglyphs like a snowflake (beginner level) rain drops (...) and a t-shirt (???).
posted by whatzit at 11:50 PM on September 4, 2010


Taco John: What people want is not features and benefits. They want presets. Lots of presets. They want to be able to tell a machine exactly what they want but not have to think about how it gets there. That's why the blank white slate is the most complex interface of all. It could morph into almost anything.

I don't know about that. In my experience, about 50% of presets work and about 50% malfunction horribly and break everything. I only try them out at all if I have so little skill with the device that I consider that to be better odds than I'd have on my own.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:53 PM on September 4, 2010


This is a bit of a derail, but I just bought a 'universal' screwdriver that is a goddamn great tool.

It's from Stanley, and it has the usual interchangeable bits. Most universal screwdrivers have a selection of small bits that attach to the body somewhere. Sometimes they go in a screw-cap on the end, sometimes in little mounting holes around the body. The big problem with this is that the bits are small, and are easy to drop, lose, or mix in with some other tool's parts.

What this thing does is use really long shafts on each bit... just eyeballing it, it looks like they're about three inches long. And it has six very long slots in the body. If you want to change bits, you pull out the existing one, and push it into one of the holes, pushing out whatever's already in there. You can tell which head in which slot because there are little cutout windows at the top, so you can spin the screwdriver around, spot what you want, and use whatever's already out to get access to the one you need.

Because the pieces are being held by such long receptacles, they can't really fall out, and the screwdriver haft has what feels like a small rare-earth magnet at the bottom, so your in-use bit won't fall out either. The tiny rare-earth magnets exert a very strong force over a very short distance, so it'd be almost impossible to dislodge it accidentally, while being quite easy to pull free deliberately.

You end up with seven usable bits in a screwdriver that's big enough to exert real torque. Just sitting there, it mostly looks like a standard, fixed-function screwdriver, and works every bit as well, but then easily allows you to change bits.

It's the first time I've seen a universal that I think is completely better than a dedicated.... it sacrifices none of the strengths of a single bit, while also offering flexibility.

It's a truly impressive piece of design work.
posted by Malor at 11:58 PM on September 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


People don't want simplicity. They don't want flexibility, either.

They want software to speak their personal lexicon.

Lexicons must be established at some point, and there is no more perfect example than the iPhone.
posted by sourwookie at 12:17 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Didn't Microsoft try a Windows option that hid your infrequently used menu options?

You hear that? That little sound? That's my soul. My soul, which I've raised digitally, and which loves a well-constructed UI, and which is worn away a bit every day as it tries to help people with computers.

Specifically, the sound you hear is screaming.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:24 AM on September 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Yes, which is why I use CopyTrans - I have a "classic" iPod, and it works with most models. It's not officially sanctioned by Apple, but it's much simpler and more reliable, and other free 3rd party options are available.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:25 AM on September 5, 2010


What this thing does is use really long shafts on each bit... just eyeballing it, it looks like they're about three inches long. And it has six very long slots in the body.

Ah, but the problem with this is that those bits are probably not standard, making replacement difficult. The thing about the small bits is that any store that carries bits at all will have them, so if you lose them they're easy to replace. Those long bits probably require going to a store that carries that particular model of Stanley screwdriver. Also, sometimes I need some unusual driver heads (like torx) that aren't going to be available for that type of screwdriver. For simple screwdriver tasks I like my Leatherman (which does use non-standard bits, but I rarely change it except to reverse it).

Also, I need to use many of my tools on or near circuitry and computer parts, so magnets are out. It's possible to deprogram an EPROM with a magnet (among other issues). I do have a couple universal screwdrivers - one can swivel, but neither are magnetic, and I can get all the unusual bits I need and just store them in a toolbox. I need the features I have in the tools I own, for the most part, because I've settled on them after a lot of trial-and-error.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:38 AM on September 5, 2010


heh. He uses the iPod as an example there, which is a pretty good example, except it's fundamentally tied to iTunes, which is a hideous example of feature crammed bloatware.

This was the comment I was replying to earlier ...
posted by krinklyfig at 12:46 AM on September 5, 2010


It was Office from 2000 onwards, and it sucked donkey balls: The shifting menus customize the computer to be unusable to everybody else and train the user to be unable to use another computer, particularly since it was mostly enabled by non-proficient users.

There was a little arrow to get the full menu. It's hard to believe that people could be to stupid to notice it, but there you.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 AM on September 5, 2010


There was a little arrow to get the full menu. It's hard to believe that people could be to stupid to notice it

One of the few times I've ever been surly with a user during my IT career was when I told someone that in my estimation there's a pretty big, bright line between having specialized or specific back end technical knowledge and just using your freakin' eyes and basic logic when using an interface. Because, really, you don't have to be a programming or networking guru to just look at the damn choices right in front of your fat stupid face and be able to maybe think for a moment instead of relying on your narrow rote set of options and panicking if there isn't an immediate match to what you already memorized you lazy donkey of a man-child.

Oops.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:54 AM on September 5, 2010 [25 favorites]


I carry a multi-tool instead of a pocket knife. Won't find me complaining about feature bloat. Where's the saw blade????
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:09 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Users don't want simplicity -- they want customizability to the point where they break everything so they can then take out their unaddressed childhood psychological problems out on your support people.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:28 AM on September 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't understand this author's conclusion. Just because people have certain tendencies (note, by the way, that he fails to identify the variance, malleability, and underlying cause of the alleged cognitive bias) does not mean designers should cater to or encourage those tendencies.

If there exists product A and you expend the effort to create a product A' that psychologically tricks people into buying it over A, it may bring the money to you, but society is not obviously improved as a whole.

I mean, the example of building deadweights into expensive home-audio remotes is pretty well-known in the folklore. The author is just advocating the feature-set analog of this, and I for one think it's wrongheaded and shortsighted.
posted by polymodus at 1:50 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


There was a little arrow to get the full menu. It's hard to believe that people could be to stupid to notice it, but there you.

Well, I.

Looking for an infrequently used selection with this system means you now have to move down to the little arrow --- which is at a different height for each menu --- click it and then go through this new menu to see if your option is there.

With the full menus, you just click on each heading and scan across the menu, and already have some idea of where infrequently used stuff is because you see it every day.

Furthermore, the moving menus system means you cannot memorize the position of options, making work much slower for proficient users. It is particularly frustrating when you already know the proper position of the item you want. It also complicates helping people without looking at their screen and generally penalizes people who know what they want, to accommodate those who can't be bothered to learn.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:51 AM on September 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Another example of feature bloat: light switches in hotel rooms.

It used to be that hotel rooms had light switches in the same places where regular bed rooms have light switches. Then came the master switch near the door that either switches on enough lights to find your way around the room or switches on every light in the room. So far, so good.

When I used an internet site to book a hotel a couple of months ago, I noticed some reviews of the hotel mentioning that people had slept badly because they hadn't been able to switch off the ceiling lights.

When I arrived in my hotel room I began to understand what they meant. There was a master switch near the door that switched on every light in the room, including the large number of little spotlights that covered the ceiling. Some of the lamps in the room had light switches attached to them, but none of these actually did anything. I then found a control panel near the bed, which had buttons for every light in the room. Except the ceiling lights.

Hunting around for information about the TV channels I eventually encountered a card containing a user manual for the room's light switches. It turned out that the control panel contained a button with a little picture of a bed, which switched off every light in the room including the ceiling lights (I had noticed the button, but had assumed it meant "do not disturb") and another button with a little picture of an alarm clock on it that switched on every light in the room including the ceiling lights (I had assumed that this button had something to do with actual alarm clock functionality).

TLDR version: if you need to provide a user manual for something as simple as a light switch you need to rethink your design.
posted by rjs at 2:03 AM on September 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Whilst doing luxury marketing in San Francisco, one of the key concepts that often emerged from research was that luxury products are about lack of choice. Part of the value of luxury brands was in fact their curation of 'features' (features being defined by specific product ranges -- fashion, beverage, automotive, hospitality, etc.)

For example:
Maybach 62 S
VW Golf

Maybach: No "Build" Tool.
VW: 1. Body type (4) > 2. Color (7) > 3. Transmission (2) 4. Wheels (6). 4 steps, 336 combinations.

And this repeats across many car lines and others as well. B&O versus Sony audio equipment. iPhone versus Nokia smartphones. Banana Republic versus Armani.

Thinking about food:

Safeway = Make it your damn self
Burger King = Have It Your Way
The French Laundry = Have it Thomas Keller's Way

Looking across the product line, there are a few key points:
1) Value - Commodity good with no customisation (bus, meat)
2) Choice - Common good with customisation (VW Golf, Burger King
3) Quality - Luxury good with no customisation (Maybach, The French Laundry)

Seems to be that with 'feature bloat', you're paying for buttons and lights and you are curating whereas defacto implicit in luxury is the fact you are paying Benz, Lagerfeld, Keller to curate for you.
posted by nickrussell at 3:41 AM on September 5, 2010 [15 favorites]


Luxury goods don't need feature bloat to get customers, since the price tag is the major feature that is being purchased. Would anyone buy a cheap car that was as much of a pain in the ass as a Jaguar?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:47 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


really, you don't have to be a programming or networking guru to just look at the damn choices right in front of your fat stupid face and be able to maybe think for a moment instead of relying on your narrow rote set of options and panicking if there isn't an immediate match to what you already memorized

Actually, to a fairly surprising extent, you do. It's not the poor benighted users that have donkey turds for brains, it's the people who design the courses that trained them.

When was the last time you attended an entry-level computer skills course? I've sat in on a few of them, and I find them really disheartening - because what they teach is not skills, but recipes: click File, then click Page Setup, then click A4, then click OK ...

The typical entry level course is structured to turn Mr and Ms Average Technophobe into somebody who can bang out a passable resume with Word and an execrable advertising flyer with Publisher, and that's all. The courses don't cover those skills we bemoan our clueless users not having: knowing what a menu is (or even the meanings of many of the jargon words on those menus), knowing how to minimize, restore, reposition and maximize windows, or what a window title is, or what a URL is, or what files are and where they go when you save them, or which mouse button to use when, and all those other technical minutiae that are second nature to those of us who do this for fun and profit.

It's as if driver education taught you how to get to to the shops by telling you that you need to turn this key, press these two pedals, pull that lever like so, then let go that pedal and press that other one, turn this wheel, let go that pedal .... now open the door and go into the shop - while utterly glossing over the fact that you're operating a ton and a half of machinery and you need to make it go along a road.

People who have been taught this way are intensely aware of their limitations, and they are typically deathly afraid of breaking something that they know nothing about if they deviate one iota from their feebly inadequate training. They're not too stupid to go roaming around the menu tree looking for that function they want - they're afraid to do so because they have simply never been given any way to orient themselves in the requisite conceptual space.

As a school IT technician, a major part of my role is taking the time to help people understand the equipment they're using so that they can work this stuff out for themselves.

Of course, I'm lucky that it's teachers I'm mostly working with, and that I'm mostly working with them in their classrooms, because I can see the amazing skill these people exercise day in, day out. For me, it's easy not to fall into the trap of writing off a skilled professional as a mere PEBKAC. There is simply no way I could herd a bunch of rambunctious Grade 4 kids effectively, and I make a point of reminding myself of that every time I find myself yet again fixing some (to me) utterly trivial technical issue for one of the people who can.
posted by flabdablet at 3:58 AM on September 5, 2010 [38 favorites]


That gets into an entirely different part of the situation -- namely that consumers who purchase a Jaguar are more in control of their schedules than consumers who need reliable transportation.
In fact, rising commitments to displays of lassitude are so resolute that sleep has become an increasingly fashionable topic to brag about. The traditional stigma associated with sloth and inactivity appears to be fading away. Occasionally, when I visit affluent homes, I notice that kids in their late teens start to roll out of bed at four of five in the afternoon. During my teenage years the prep-school set followed the same schedule, but it was always frowned upon. Today, such behavior is not only accepted in polite households, it’s celebrated by popular culture.
-- Sleep, the Newest Status Symbol Among the Wealthy. Vanity Fair, 31 August 2010.
posted by nickrussell at 4:00 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


When people select software, they look for a certain checklist of features that the trade press says are the latest and greatest things to have. If you're trying to sell yet another word processor or C compiler or social networking system, you have to have those things on your feature checklist or your product will be seen as inferior.

To prevent feature bloat, find a way to circumvent the checklist chase.
posted by pracowity at 4:02 AM on September 5, 2010


I carry a multi-tool instead of a pocket knife. Won't find me complaining about feature bloat.

Multi-tool companies such as Leatherman or Victorinox produce dozens of different models with feature sets that vary by only a single tool in many cases. If a user never has a need for a metal file, they have the option to choose a fish scaler instead, or even a simple model with a single blade.

It is actually an excellent example of a product available with the opposite of feature-bloat (unless you're talking about this particular extreme example).
posted by fairmettle at 4:21 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I design industrial controls. For the most part the people who actually pay me aren't the people who use the machines I program, so they are more interested in simplicity and reliability than anything else.

A shop floor instrument I have used a lot over the last 15 years (my source code directory has over 2,000 application files) has a simple UI with five function keys whose labels appear on the LCD display above them. Below the five function keys are five differently colored keys with printed labels (SELECT, UNITS, PRINT, etc.)

A common problem with the original version of the instrument was users pushing the yellow printed label keys instead of the actual function keys. I quickly learned to make sure nothing irreversibly bad would happen if someone did that. In the new version of the instrument the function keys are labelled F1 thru F5 and have a dynamic graphic device linking them to the display, which has helped with that problem.

But on multiple occasions I've found operators pounding the same keys they always do, in the usual order, even though the machine was in a completely different mode with different key labels or even displaying an error message, and they were obllivious as to why it wasn't printing labels for them or whatever.
posted by localroger at 5:43 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


He had me at "Why is 37signals so arrogant?"
posted by revgeorge at 6:03 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Very often feature bloat scares me off because I am afraid that something will break. Recently we went shopping for a new refrigerator and I found one model with a coffee maker built into the door-- that seemed insane to me. I am assuming that if you are buying a $4000. refrigerator you don't have to worry about counter space, yet what other reason would you have for buying a built-in coffee maker? All I could think of when looking at the model was "Gee how many different ways can this go wrong and how often would you have to have a technician out to repair it?"
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:59 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Easy things should be easy, and hard things should be possible." ~ Larry Wall
posted by callmejay at 7:09 AM on September 5, 2010


He had me at "Why is 37signals so arrogant?"

If anyone sounded arrogant, it was Donald Norman, the author of simplicity is overrated. Norman is the one insisting that his way is the only way. 37 signals recognizes there are other ways, they just don't want to do them and have built their small, but debt free business around customers who think the same.
posted by nomadicink at 7:18 AM on September 5, 2010


There's a fine line, though, isn't there?

I work for a manufacturer of hardware and software products and we are constantly having to chase the checklist and have feature bloat.

Our customers gripe to us that they cannot sell without this and that feature, but if we had the temerity to tell them to monetize those features, "what will you commit to buying if you have those?" we'd lose a lot of business.

Am I wrong in thinking that - at least at the B2B level - there has to be some accountability on the user's side? That they have to accept a learning curve, somewhat and actually LEARN the new software, the new features? Or am I being naive?
posted by Thistledown at 7:35 AM on September 5, 2010


"don't tell Steve."

Considering this article was written in 2007, I would imagine Steve told him a few things.
posted by nomadicink at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2010


And why not have a more flexible commenting textarea, one that you could drag to a larger size?

Wait, what? You can't do this? I've been able to do this all along. Maybe this is specific to Safari? Or specific to MacOS? I have a little set of lines in the lower right corner I can drag to make my text-input box as large as I want. Hrm. I didn't realize this wasn't a universal feature.
posted by hippybear at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I want to strangle every single person on the internet who ever complained about copy paste not being present on the iPhone. Not only is it a feature I have never used, when it was actually added to the iPhone, some genius decided that the 'undo' function should be triggered by shaking the phone, and that it was important for the user to know if there was 'nothing to undo'. So pretty much every time I pick my phone up, a modal dialog box pops up saying 'nothing to undo'.
posted by Veritron at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is it just me or is Maybach the ugliest super-luxury auto marque ever?
posted by Mister_A at 8:03 AM on September 5, 2010


He had me at "Why is 37signals so arrogant?"
--
If anyone sounded arrogant, it was Donald Norman, the author of simplicity is overrated.


Now now, you're both right.

This article could have been an interesting piece on how traveling to and interacting with a new group of people challenged his assumptions about design and simplicity. But it wasn't.

From the 37 Signals article: The disdain for customers shown by Hansson of 37signals is an arrogance bound to fail.

The article's copyright from 2004 shows how well this prediction worked out.
posted by device55 at 8:06 AM on September 5, 2010


Because, really, you don't have to be a programming or networking guru to just look at the damn choices right in front of your fat stupid face and be able to maybe think for a moment instead of relying on your narrow rote set of options and panicking if there isn't an immediate match to what you already memorized you lazy donkey of a man-child.

Heh. Well, it seems a big set of users really can't handle discoverable or mutable interfaces. This seems to be age related, so if you are "technical" and no a lot of people of a certain age you can expect a lot of calls like this:

Caller: How do I [DO A THING]
You: Can you see an option that says [DO THE THING]?
Caller: No, but I can see an option that says [DO THINGS]
You: Click it. Is there an option that says [DO THE THING?]
Caller: Let me see... Yes.
You: Click it.
Caller: It worked! You are a technical genius!

Computers being the worst case, but this is also pretty common for tivo-like cable box interfaces, where you'll basically be stepping them through menu trees, having you read out the options, then telling them which one to click. And because the path will be different every time they want to do something slightly different they'll call you up again for that as well.

...and then there is the mystery of the TV/Video button on the remote, which cycles through all the video inputs until you get to the DVD player or the Cable box. For some reason that one NEVER sinks in. Is the button on the TV remote control AND the cable remote control AND the DVD remote control? That just makes it worse! They'll obsess over which one is the "right" one.

A lot of it seems to elate to the poinst in the 10 things article I linked above, and especially point 7:

Techies are happy to play with software to see what it does. They aren’t usually too worried about trying things because they can rely on some combination to undo, version control and backups to reverse most changes and they can usually judge when a change won’t be reversible. Non-technical users aren’t so confident and won’t try things in the same way. In fact some of them seem to think that a wrong move could cause the computer to burst into flames. So try to stick to conventions they will understand (e.g. on Windows those used by MS Office and Outlook) and offer step-by-step guidance for complex tasks.

With computers that and point 3. seem to be the biggest source of problems. That and not reading the documentation, but hey, who reads documentation?
posted by Artw at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can do the drag thing in Chrome, too, and you can get the UI in white. And you can change the font. I think he's ironically saying things that you can do while logged in to MeFi. Are you advertising for Mr. Haughey, Mr. twoleftfeet?
posted by curuinor at 8:34 AM on September 5, 2010


They're not too stupid to go roaming around the menu tree looking for that function they want - they're afraid to do so because they have simply never been given any way to orient themselves in the requisite conceptual space.

I actually managed to retrain my mom (in her 60s) to be a better computer user by giving her a few basic skills: no you can't "break" it, firs try rebooting, read the messages the computer tells you and think about them before panicking. I taught her to look for the little lock icon any time she uses online banking. (I also replaced IE with Firefox.)

It worked -- now she just calls me to brag about how she fixed some problem ("iTunes wouldn't authorize my new iPad but then I saw on CNN there was an Apple press conference so maybe the servers were busy so I tried unplugging it and the next day I re-entering my password and it worked!")

My dad, however, is totally hopeless.
posted by nev at 8:35 AM on September 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


That's exactly the set of skills I would be trying to teach. However in some cases it seems to be a pretty hopeless task.
posted by Artw at 8:37 AM on September 5, 2010


We have to take human behavior the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.

This is true, in very limited sense. If you, as a designer, ignore what marketing says, your design will likely fail. However, 'the way human behaviour is' is not immutable. Really good design is subtly redirective- it's seductive enough to avoid being passed over, but excellent enough to make a user reconsider what they thought they knew about what they wanted in the first place.

Really good design works to improve receptivity to better design; at its best it can help people become more critical consumers.
posted by Casimir at 8:39 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I want to strangle every single person on the internet who ever complained about copy paste not being present on the iPhone.

I use it all the time. I predict people are going to be raising hell about the lack of in on Windows Phone 7 till it gets added.

Though I agree that shake functionality is fairly annoying - I think I accidentally randomise the music player that way a lot of the time. Yes, yes, I'm sure there's an option to turn that off.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on September 5, 2010


I remember when I went into the AT&T store for my last upgrade. The salesperson asked me what I was looking for in a phone. I said, "I want to make and receive phone calls. Oh, and it has to be a flip phone because I don't like the not-flip-phones."

The salesperson stared at me blankly, and then said, "Okay. So for text messaging ---"

"I don't text message."

Blank stare ensues.

"So, like....uh..."

"I want a phone. That works as phone. You know? I dial numbers. It rings on the other end. The person I'm calling answers?"

"And..er...cameras...."

"I guess you can't avoid having a camera in your phone these days. That's okay. But I don't use it because I have a camera."

Needless to say, this person was not all that helpful, though I managed to walk away with a phone that made phone calls. Which is all I really need in a phone. And I really don't care if I do or don't have any other features. I want to make phone calls with my phone. Not write my dissertation, play games, or take photos of people randomly on the street.
posted by zizzle at 8:43 AM on September 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


I should add that now I just call my sister, who works for AT&T and say, "What kind of phone do I want?"

And she gives me the name and model number of the phone that does what I need it to do best -- make phone calls.

posted by zizzle at 8:44 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember that swell JVC VHS deck with four large colored buttons on the front. I liked it. Nobody else did. Why do people have to be so stupid?

Actually, most old professional broadcast video decks had simple interfaces. The joke at the time was that you paid extra for less buttons.
posted by ovvl at 8:47 AM on September 5, 2010


Heh, good luck getting a phone without SMS, it's been a part of every mobile phone standard since the 80s.
posted by Artw at 8:51 AM on September 5, 2010


want to make phone calls with my phone. Not write my dissertation, play games, or take photos of people randomly on the street.

Seriously. And that becomes interesting- by stripping all the home-entertainment-center features out of a phone, it could be so small and unobtrusive that it might finally disappear from my damn pocket forever. That would be worth way more than being able to use my phone as a spirit level or compass or spork.
posted by Casimir at 8:51 AM on September 5, 2010


So given that everyone uses their phone to tell the time anyway, who wants to invest in my wristphone startup?
posted by Casimir at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pocket PhoneWatches. With little chains and a vest pocket for them. It's the future!
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on September 5, 2010


One of my favorite quotes. I have this on a sticky at my desk at work, to remind me if I should somehow forget:
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

Why can't we have simplicity AND features? The best tools are multi-purpose. I'd rather have a single simple tool that can do everything than a messy toolbox full of single purpose tools.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2010


Heh, good luck getting a phone without SMS, it's been a part of every mobile phone standard since the 80s.
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on September 5 [+] [!]


I wasn't looking specifically to avoid getting a phone with the feature, just that it's not at all important to me or even a consideration when I buy a phone. And I really don't have a text message plan. I maybe send one every three months, if that.
posted by zizzle at 8:59 AM on September 5, 2010


I work for a manufacturer of hardware and software products and we are constantly having to chase the checklist and have feature bloat.

When I worked for a software company, I ended up spending months on a feature that no end user would ever use, and that everybody knew no end user would ever use (I was the n00b, so I got stuck with it). The only purpose of the feature was so that our big shot sales guys could add a bullet point on their presentation to their big shot purchasing guys.


All I could think of when looking at the model was "Gee how many different ways can this go wrong and how often would you have to have a technician out to repair it?"

Plus, in the old days if the fridge coffeemaker broke at least the fridge would keep working. Now I'd be worried that the whole thing was controlled by a badly programmed central chip (the programming was probably beautiful until some jackass came running up with his focus group evidence that a coffeemaker needed to be added at the very last minute, btw.), so that when the coffeemaker went the fridge would start heating your food instead of cooling it.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:31 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


We Metafilter users as a homogeneous whole can hardly get haughty on this topic. Witness the constant endless parade of "pony requests" on MetaTalk.

"Metafilter is great, but if it could just do this one more thing..."

I'm so grateful The Powers That Be are comfortable saying "No" to these requests. If every single pony request was granted, Metafilter would become completely unusuable.
posted by ErikaB at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Re:OmniFocus, it's pretty explicitly based on Getting Things Done, and probably makes more sense in the light of that.

Personally the Omni product I'm envious of as a Windows user is OmniOutliner, which is basically the outliner code that OmniFocus was derived from, and should such a thing arrive on the iPad it's going to make it pretty hard for me to resist getting one.
posted by Artw at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2010


(I of course would have a set of feature requests for it that would be pretty specific to the way I write stuff, and that would be useless or incomprehensible to 99% of you. My dream comics writing app is probably never going to happen...)
posted by Artw at 9:42 AM on September 5, 2010


This appears to be the Stanley screwdriver Malor described earlier in the thread. Ten bucks.
posted by speedo at 9:56 AM on September 5, 2010


There's quite a few cell phones for people who just want to make calls. Like this one. They're basically meant for old people who can't understand this whole texting and internetting thing. They even have a dial tone when you turn them on.
posted by fungible at 10:06 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Witness the constant endless parade of "pony requests" on MetaTalk.

But these come in the wake of a basic design that's pretty darned easy to figure out. CLICK here to follow a link. WRITE a comment in this big box, CLICK preview or just POST the darned thing. CLICK on a user's name to find out more about them. And so on.

For me, Feature Bloat becomes Feature Bloat not when there's too many detailed little things that a device or program will do, but when (speaking metaphorically) these detailed little things essentially spill out of the box the moment you open it, and you end up tripping over them just trying to reach the off/on switch.

Sometimes I think all devices (and the software that drives them) should be organized like games. That is, you enter at the most basic functional level and, before you can move up a level, you've got to assert mastery (ie: pass a test).

It would even be fun.
posted by philip-random at 10:15 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, exactly. The way you get from a "basic design that's pretty darned easy to figure out" to things that "spill out of the box the moment you open it" is by agreeing to pony requests.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that people are never happy. (Thus, pony requests.)
posted by ErikaB at 10:26 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


A game, you say?
posted by ymgve at 10:30 AM on September 5, 2010


Bloat or no, the iPod touch needs a freaking scrollbar! Have you ever tried to navigate a long Mefi thread where you have to flick 510 times to get to the new comments, and then accidentally bump the "zip-back-to-the-top" zone of the screen? Yarrgh!

Scrollbar@! Now!
posted by Trochanter at 11:57 AM on September 5, 2010


Bloat or no, the iPod touch needs a freaking scrollbar! Have you ever tried to navigate a long Mefi thread where you have to flick 510 times to get to the new comments, and then accidentally bump the "zip-back-to-the-top" zone of the screen? Yarrgh!

Ugh, I know; I hate that too -- especially since there isn't a way to refresh without scrolling all the way back up to the top (or is there? someone please tell me I'm mistaken!). With multitouch, you'd think they could make "drag with one finger" be "scroll like normal" and "drag with two fingers" be more of a scrollbar functionality.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2010


Agreed, Trochanter - but on Mefi, here's a tip: Either tap on the "(x new coments)" link when entering the thread to get to the new ones, or tap on the "skip to menu" at the top to get all the way to the bottom of the thread fast.
posted by fungible at 12:07 PM on September 5, 2010


What an incredibly awful article. People don't "want" complex and hard-to-use devices; they choose them for other reasons and then are unhappy with the results.

It's like saying "I went to America and everyone was really, really fat. I saw them all buying hamburgers all the time -- they want to be fat! Americans want to be fat. Why is 37 signals so fat?"

All his ancedote about Korea showed is that status signifiers are important when buying a product. Well, no shit. So now the manufacturers are all chasing the wrong thing, because they're extracting entirely the wrong information from the market.

By ignoring that, and hitting what people actually want, Apple are cleaning the fuck up right now. They offer an great status signifier, but one that's also a product that's easy to use.
posted by bonaldi at 1:12 PM on September 5, 2010


nickrussell wrote: "Occasionally, when I visit affluent homes, I notice that kids in their late teens start to roll out of bed at four of five in the afternoon."

Uh, that's just what teens do. It's got nothing to do with wealth. It is true that the more money you have the more likely you get to set your own schedule. People with their name on the door generally can show up whenever the hell they like. 10 AM seems to be pretty popular.

zizzle wrote: "And she gives me the name and model number of the phone that does what I need it to do best -- make phone calls. "

I'm a lover of smartphones, but making and receiving calls is still the most important thing to me. Some do this very well. Others do not. This is why I constantly tell Symbian haters to suck it. It does a whole lot of stuff, but the basic make/receive a phone call functionality is about as simple as humanly possible. More importantly, it always works. Some other phones have a problem with that.
posted by wierdo at 1:22 PM on September 5, 2010


Personally I like simple phones, and also like smartphones (probably even a bit too much - do I really need to check Twitter every 5mins for the duration of being awake?) but everything that I've had in between, in the "feature phone" set, has been fucking garbage with horrendous UI.
posted by Artw at 1:45 PM on September 5, 2010


For the Microsoft "smart" menus, you can double-click the menu header (File, Edit, etc.) and get the full menu without having to go all the way down to the arrow icon each time.
posted by Evilspork at 2:19 PM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


ErikaB: "Yes, exactly. The way you get from a "basic design that's pretty darned easy to figure out" to things that "spill out of the box the moment you open it" is by agreeing to pony requests."

This is of course, balony. Google's search engine has all kinds of options and features, and their search engine is still very simple, with a "basic design that's easy to figure out". Yet I can use it to find all the pages that link to my website, or restrict it to searching just metafilter.

Speaking as someone with a fairly random and frivolous pony request just a few days ago, I feel compelled to defend it. An optional parameter to filter user post RSS by tags is not difficult nor does it need to confront people daily. I see no reason to make the feature "spill out of the box." But I've figured a way around it, and prioritizing new features, like IRL or jobs wanted is something I understand.
posted by pwnguin at 2:32 PM on September 5, 2010


Just a guess, but you may also be able to click on the timestamp of the last post. I think this not only makes the URL start the page at that post, it also reloads the page (thus displaying new comments).
posted by Decimask at 4:18 PM on September 5, 2010


Decimask: "Just a guess, but you may also be able to click on the timestamp of the last post. I think this not only makes the URL start the page at that post, it also reloads the page (thus displaying new comments)."

I have some updates I need to install so my experience may not be relevant for everyone, but on my 3GS, clicking the timestamp just jumps to the corresponding anchor. I have to refresh separately by scrolling up and then it keeps the scroll set to the top. On the other hand, I just realized that if I open the link in a new page from the timestamp link, it has the behavior I want. (A little annoying to have to go back and close the other page, but better than scrollingscrollingscrolling!)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:01 PM on September 5, 2010


Picquik also makes those screwdrivers with the long replacement bits (and some stubby screwdrivers that use bits that are longer than the tiny bits that you usually see), so clearly they're not Stanley-specific. I've got a pair of big Picquics and a stubby and that's my screwdrivers (although I see they have hex key bit packs now, must pick up a metric set for the bike.)

They also hold well in a drill chuck.
posted by mendel at 8:48 PM on September 5, 2010


OMFG the previous owners left us a giant LG flat-screen TV, and I absolutely hate that thing. It's menus etc are ridiculously and unnecessarily complex. Nobody, nobody in my house except me, including, remarkably, my children who would actually gnaw off their own limbs in order to watch one more episode of Wonder Pets, have any idea how to actually turn it on and get it to show the cable. My mother-in-law's LG washing machine was equally baroque and frustrating.
posted by newdaddy at 9:58 PM on September 5, 2010


I'd rather have a single simple tool that can do everything

There you go. (Or if you're in the UK, here.)

Or at least, that's as close as you are ever likely to find. There is a reason why people have lots of tools, and nobody has managed to become filthy rich producing some ubertool that does everything well.

You might start off like something above, and things might be good — it drives screws! it opens paint! it pries up boards! it chisels soft wood! — but eventually you'll find something that it can't quite do well, or that it could do well if only it had one modification. ('Gee, it'd be really handy if we put a bend in it, for more leverage; and maybe it could be double-ended; and maybe it could have a slot, for pulling out small nails ... leaving you with this.)

If you continue down this path, eventually you end up at multitools, or their slightly-older cousin, which can do a fair number of things reasonably well, but none perfectly. (Try pounding more than a few deck nails with one of those, or really torquing down on a screw with the slippery knurled brass driver.) Thus, specialty tools are born.

Most people, if you went around and looked at what they actually have versus what they prefer as a matter of ideology, probably have a combination of general-purpose and single purpose tools. I would argue that this is the smart move: you accrue a good number of general purpose tools, and then add specialty tools here and there when the need arises.

As it is with tools, so is it with software. Most people, people who use their computers every day for their living (which is, if not a majority, an increasingly large segment), have some mix of general-purpose and highly specialized, perhaps even custom software. An accountant in a big corporation might spend most of their day working in Excel — definitely a Swiss Army knife piece of software, doing a lot of things passably but few well — but occasionally grab data from a core system running custom code, perhaps without really even realizing it. Or a small business owner might have a significant investment in hand-tweaked Access databases, idiosyncratic and customized by one user for that same user, as best that user knows how; the software equivalent of my grandfather's wood-carving tools, ground out of old steak knives during the Depression. Ugly, but effective.

Many users realize that their multi-purpose tools could be replaced, at least in some use cases, with single-purpose tools that are a better fit for that particular task. But they generally also realize that most special-purpose tools have some sort of cost, either a literal cost, or in training/mindspace, and they're hesitant to spend the money or time or effort on a tool that they would use only occasionally. This is why programs like Word and Excel stick around, even though, most of the time, what many users are doing with them would be better done in another program (e.g., much of what gets done in Word would be better done in LaTeX or a WYSIWYG page-layout program; much of what gets done in Excel would be better done in a desktop database, SPSS, R, or a field-specific data analysis package).

Of course, it's easy to pick on these users, in the same way it's easy for a professional mechanic with $20 or $30 thousand in tools to pick on the shade-tree amateur who uses an adjustable wrench and bangs their knuckles undoing a bolt. But if they only undo that bolt once a year, it might not be worth buying the socket, ratchet, extension piece, etc., that it would take to do it easily.

Although individual users may in fact be idiots — we all have our own "idiot user" stories and I'm no exception — it's rare for a group of users within a particular industry to all be idiots, or even to be idiots collectively on the same issue. The rise of general-purpose COTS software, much of it bloated with features, in place of custom code did not happen completely without a reason.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:19 PM on September 5, 2010


a single simple tool that can do everything

I prefer...
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:49 AM on September 6, 2010


When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like OH FUCK IT NOT THE FINGERS AS WELL *AGAIN*
posted by flabdablet at 4:17 AM on September 6, 2010


LaTeX or a WYSIWYG page-layout program

To pick on LaTeX a bit, it's apparent single-purpose simplicity quickly breaks when you take it outside of the limited publication domains for which it was initially designed. Creating something that's mostly APA-compliant for example involves dealing with a ton of extremely arcane special formatting cases.

As much as I have a love/hate relationship with MSWord it does some things really well for simple writing and editing that InDesign doesn't even try to match.

In part, software becomes complex because it attempts to model horrendously complex human processes. MSWord is a beast because it tries to capture 200 years of typography AND business correspondence into a single beast. Photoshop is actually a success story because it actually succeeds at distilling 150 years of photographic practice that included everything from toxic chemicals, to rotting rabbit guts, to improvised torn strips of trash in a single interface, at the cost of an extremely complex interface.

Of course I'm biased here, but I'm pretty convinced that half the problem of developing more humane human interfaces is going to require changing the way we do work.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:58 AM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


MSWord is a beast because it tries to capture 200 years of typography AND business correspondence into a single beast.

MSWord is a beast because of hundreds of horrible design decisions. Most of them, to be fair, were made in 1984 when it had to run in a few hundred K of memory, and were acceptable trade-offs at the time, but they've never been rescinded and so we essentially have a Mac app from System 1.0 days in a very, very fancy dress.
posted by bonaldi at 2:25 PM on September 6, 2010


Early (DOS) Word was much more discoverable than WordPerfect was, even with the nifty WP keyboard template. Wordstar was very much in between, what with having easily accessible menus, yet still having a thousand arcane keyboard commands.

I preferred Wordstar, by a mile. These days, I'd rather use whatever the latest version of WordPerfect is over Word, which is a bloated mess. Not that WP doesn't have its own problems...
posted by wierdo at 3:01 PM on September 6, 2010


Word 97 forever. Boots in 2 seconds. I'm going retro all I can. I'm on photoshop cs2 now, but I'm thinking of going back to 7.
posted by Trochanter at 3:12 PM on September 6, 2010


Word, and other WYSIWYG word processors (and lets face it, they are all pretty similar to word or based on it) brings us full circle – because really they should have a strict style based system for consistent appearance of text, but users prefer to have lots and lots of options instead, individually picking font, text size, text alignment etc... etc... until the whole thing becomes very complicated. And the thing is users really want to be able to make those kinds of ad hoc changes, even though styles would better, and would kick up a hell of a fuss if you took their toolbars full of dropdowns away.

Word 97 forever.

These days they call it "Open Office".
posted by Artw at 5:27 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Much as I enjoy, approve of and recommend OpenOffice, it's not even in the same league as Word 97 for startup speed.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 PM on September 6, 2010


I laid out the version of The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect that is currently on Amazon via Lulu in Word 97. This was in like 2002.

Nowadays I use OpenOffice.
posted by localroger at 6:16 PM on September 6, 2010


Office 2010 starts up pretty fast, and even has a "cancel" button on the splash screen if you change your mind.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:39 PM on September 6, 2010


Needless to say, this person was not all that helpful, though I managed to walk away with a phone that made phone calls. Which is all I really need in a phone. And I really don't care if I do or don't have any other features. I want to make phone calls with my phone. Not write my dissertation, play games, or take photos of people randomly on the street.
posted by zizzle


You sound like my grandfather :)

In all honesty, you were basically going into a car dealership and asking for a go-kart. For good or bad, phones that just make phone calls are becoming more rare by the day, especially in that setting.

If you just want a phone that makes calls, and just calls, why even bother with ATT and an employee that's paid to upsale. Go to walmart or target or a drugstore. The'll be more than happy to sale you a 20 dollar phone with no employee interaction.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 6:56 AM on September 8, 2010


Office 2010 starts up pretty fast, and even has a "cancel" button on the splash screen if you change your mind.

At least they didn't build an e-mail client into it so you can check your mail while the thing loads.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:28 AM on September 9, 2010


Less annoying than clippy

Yes, yes, I know that clippy hasn't existed for nearly a decade.

Actually in the context of the discussion agents are rather interesting - in theory they should have been a revolution in UI, moving complex functionality out of the users way and then asking the user if they want it in the right context. In reality: Users hate anything vaguely agent shaped and with a passion and have the instant reaction of wanting to kill it with fire.
posted by Artw at 8:02 AM on September 9, 2010


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