Thoughts on featuritis

I’ve been having some frustrations from the user end with some software I regularly use. I’m not sure if this is commonplace for users in general or if these are just some of the quirks which make me a special snowflake, but I realised that I’ve switched web browsers a few times over the years for only one reason:

They took away configuration settings.

That’s right. New features did not lure me to a different browser. This goes somewhat against conventional wisdom — especially marketing wisdom. As far as browsers go, I am told that “I just assumed Google/Mozilla/Opera knows best”. That’s a marketing value-add right there, building up your brand, but my undiagnosed OCD won’t allow me to tolerate browser tabs that almost touch and which are not perfectly square. Guess what? There is no setting for that.

My browser of choice used to be Firefox. Used to be. Why? Browser tabs started becoming rounded instead of perfectly square. They did have the option of rectifying this wrong, but then they took it away. You can technically get the square tabs back, but now you have to install a plug-in instead of just adjusting a setting. A setting they removed. Why? WHY?

Why not just leave the setting there? Surely, new users or people who enjoy the new features would just accept it and move on. And a segment of your already captured market would want to leave things the way they were.

You can make your entire market segment happy by offering configuration options. Just don’t take them away — ever.

In fact, the purpose of having configuration settings in the first place is to ensure that you can account for taste to some extent. I do not see how removing configuration settings helps to improve any product, ever. Unless you are trying to hide bugs you could not iron out due to new features you added that clashed with old features, but that’s another argument against features for their own sake as far as I am concerned.

My current workplace suffers to a great extent from ‘tester driven development’. This entails bug reports driving development instead of a level-headed evaluation of the cost or the value of a given feature.

Regardless, even if a given feature passes the cost and value evaluation, I do not see how it adds value to remove configuration settings. Just leave them alone. I can guarantee you that some lonely sad bastard is going to go hunting for that configuration setting, because I am one of them, and if I do not find that setting, I am going to look for greener pastures.

Another example is Blackberry. They had two major marketing points: A QWERTY keyboard in the days of number pads, and free internet. They took away the QWERTY keyboard to try and compete with smarter phones, and they took away the free internet because none of the other smarter phones — which weren’t options for their target market — offered the same service.

I’m sure if they crunched the numbers now, they would realise just sticking with keeping their existence audience happy would have been the wiser choice. At least most people reading this would still know what Blackberry was all about instead of having to go and search for their brand.

I guess it boils down to a bird in the hand being better than two in the sky. By all means, develop bleeding edge features, but think twice about making them the default, and not offering users the option to go back to their safe space.