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Scripting News, the weblog started in 1997 that bootstrapped the blogging revolution.

Does Twitter do enough? Permanent link to this item in the archive.

A picture named pdp11processorhandbook.gifEvan Williams, the Blogger guy and Twitter co-founder, gave a talk at LeWeb3 about keeping software small, and how sometimes you can create a product by removing features from an existing product. He showed how Twitter is less than Blogger, no titles, comments, templates, etc. It's almost nothing compared to Blogger, but we're using it and liking it.

It's not a new story. When I was coming of age in computer science, the newest computers were minicomputers. They were called that because they were smaller and did less than the mainframe computers that came before. They were followed by microcomputers which did even less and were a lot more popular than minicomputers (which of course were more popular than mainframes).

Scaling things down can make them more useful. But it's a paradox because once a feature is in a product you can't take it out or the users will complain so loudly that you put it back in right away. I know, I tried, a number of times to back out of features that I thought of better ways to do. You can always add features to products, it will make the existing users happy. But it often comes at a cost of making the product more complicated for first-time users, and they don't have a voice, they can't complain, they just go somewhere else, usually quietly.

A picture named typewriter2.gifSo Evan has a point. Software design, if you're creating wholly new products, is like haiku. Find the smallest subset of a mature product that will attract people and ship it.

But there are certainly features they could add to Twitter that would have no impact on the steepness of the learning curve (i.e. how easy it is for a new user to get started). For example users are good at skipping over prefs they don't understand. But you have to think carefully about what the default should be, so there's no penalty for not caring.

Also features that only appear in the API have no cost in complexity of the user interface. They might make it possible for a developer to build a new product on top of the existing one. Since the user of the base product can't see the feature, it can't make it harder to learn. An example -- Flickr lets you build an RSS feed of recent pictures that have a certain tag, say snowstorm. It's nice to have, but only if it doesn't get in the way of other more basic features.

Some users say they don't want new features, but I bet most of them would be very happy to use a new feature that made Twitter more fun or useful. And there are alot of users who don't say anything about it, and don't think much about it. Most people aren't interested in theories about why products catch on, they like it or they don't, and don't know why they do or don't.

It's always good to ask questions about why things work, but if I could offer the Twitter folk any advice, I'd say don't hesitate too much to put in new features that will make users happy. Ultimately users like new features in products they use a lot. There's a reason why products tend to bloat over time, it's because users demand it. The trick is to not compromise too much on ease of learning.


Last update: Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 1:38 PM Pacific.

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Dave Winer, 52, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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On This Day In: 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997.

December 2007
Nov   Jan

Lijit Search
Things to revisit:

1.Microsoft patent acid test.
2.What is a weblog?
3.Advertising R.I.P.
4.How to embrace & extend.
5.Bubble Burst 2.0.
6.This I Believe.
7.Most RSS readers are wrong.
8.Who is Phil Jones?
9.Send them away.
10.Negotiate with users.
11.Preserving ideas.
12.Empire of the Air.
13.NPR speech.
14.Russo & Hale.
15.Trouble at the Chronicle.
15.RSS 2.0.
16.Checkbox News.
17.Spreadsheet calls over the Internet.
18.Twitter as coral reef.
19.Mobs of the blogosphere.
20.Advice for Campaigns.
21.Social Cameras.
22.The Next Big Thing.
23.It's time to open up networking, again.
24.Am I competing?
25.Time to shake up conferences?
26.Bloggers working with journalists.

Teller: "To discover is not merely to encounter, but to comprehend and reveal, to apprehend something new and true and deliver it to the world."

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