The Dangers of Feature Overload and Duplication

Simply put, I review a LOT of content management systems. So many, in fact, that I often am asked how I manage to stay focused enough to not lose interest in what I do. Let me tell you, it's not easy. One of the things that I have begun to pay attention to is my initial reactions when I first log into the administration interface for a CMS I'm reviewing. Specifically, I try to pay attention to any feelings that might overtake me as I look at what I'm being presented and, more often than I'd like, one of those feelings is that of being overwhelmed and a feeling of instant frustration. Why? Due to feature overload and duplication.

Let's explore this shall we?

I had a conversation recently with someone I have developed quite a bit of respect for, a gentleman by the name of Dragan Marjanovic, who resides here in Edmonton and works in the CMS industry. Dragan and I have discovered that we both have similar belief systems when it comes to how a CMS should be designed and developed and we had an interesting conversation about his battle, as a business owner, to steer his developers away from adding multiple methods of accomplishing a single task within his CMS.

The logic, for a developer, is simple. You need a feature, so I added it. Here's a new button for it. Now it works.

The problem, however, is that developers are technical individuals who have no problem navigating these complex interfaces. They also have no problem with technical manuals and documentation whereas end users nowadays, however, are much less technically inclined. So it then becomes the burden of the “person with the vision” to help simplify and standardize their system so that the experience is a pleasant one for non-technical users. It's a daunting task for sure.

Why is feature duplication such a bad thing?

Let's take the ever popular iOS platform for an example.

On your iPad, iPhone or iPod, there is one way to open an app, you click on the square. To close the app, you click on the home button and the app goes away. It's simple (for some, too simple) but it's effective and if I was asked to recommend a system to someone who has never used a tablet or smart phone before, i wouldn't hesitate to point at an Apple device because I know the learning curve is minimal. I can hand one to my grandfather or mother and know that they will get it far faster than if I handed them a device with a hundred ways to do those same tasks. Why? It's due to the fact that people want to feel that they get it. They don't want to be overwhelmed with 100 different ways to accomplish something, they want it to work. They want to get the job done and while Apple, for some, might not be their favorite company, you have to give them credit for “getting” how to establish a solid customer experience.

This same logic applies to content management systems. If I log into your system and I see a dashboard that has thousands of links and tabs with dropdowns and buttons everywhere, I tend to get overwhelmed almost immediately  Is it because I don't think I can use it? No. The chances are, I can figure it out just fine, but I'm a technical person so I'm good at discovering how things are done. For those less technical people, the ones who'll most likely be using your CMS, that's not necessarily the case.

It's not just duplication that's a problem, however, it's also feature overload. If you are the person that makes the final say before your product is shipped, it's your responsibility to the end user to ensure that you really understand what type of product you are trying to sell them. Are you developing a CMS or an Experience? If the former, then by all means, go ahead and add as many buttons as you want and watch your sales drop. If the latter, then you need to consider what type of experience you are selling. The reason I am calling this an experience is simply because there are hundreds, nay thousands, of content management systems on the market and, for the most part, they all do pretty much the same things. What separates the good from the bad, however, is how they do it.

Look at WordPress as an example. It's a blog platform primarily but because it's been designed to be streamlined, logical, friendly and “just work”, people have taken it to a level far exceeding that which it was originally intended for. It's now turned into a pretty solid CMS. Sure, it can't do your taxes or invoicing (yet) but with WordPress, it's about the experience and making it as easy as possible. Want to add a tweet to a post? Paste in the URL of the tweet and you are done. Need to share a YouTube video? Paste in the link and it's sized and embedded automatically. Want to add a post? There's only one way to do it, click add new post. Are you catching my drift?

In a nutshell what I'm getting at is this, in it's simplest form, “Feature overload and feature duplication are bad”.

If you are looking to get a piece of this market, you need to stop thinking like a developer, start thinking like a creator and stop selling a product. Sell an experience. Think of your target audience and make it the product cater to them. Don't try to make the audience cater to the product because you will not succeed. You will simply create frustration and eventually, drive your customer away.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is my rant for today. What are your thoughts?