August 26, 2009 |
The vast majority of web startups I have witnessed launch and grow over the years blogging here at Profy have huge plans for the future and road maps that seem to be so lengthy that no one ever knows if their plans for the future can ever be fully accomplished – including the startups themselves. Lately we have seen many situations when on the launch day the press and the initial users get more promises than real features – but this is something we have already learned to be comfortable with.
But at the same time there are some very lucky startups (well-funded ones, I mean) and established web companies that have sufficient resources to do practically anything that comes to their bright minds – and their products are developed strictly according to the plans without users having to wait for the promised features for ages with everything that is actually needed quickly implemented.
Of course it is probably better to be related to the second group of companies: as a developer you won’t face product managers demanding some unrealistic results from you while as a user you will be happy with a feature-rich product that is constantly updated and new features are added that make you even happier with the product you already like.
But there is another (rather small) group of companies that also deserve a mention: those that have more than enough money and resources for everything they are willing to develop – so they come up with very strange ideas that seem to hint that the guys have no better things to do and probably nothing on their road map either. Here are the things that I think web companies only come up with when they have no better things to do – and no ideas on where to bring their product further.
Special holiday logos
This is the first thing that comes to my mind because when you browse the web on some holiday (or maybe something like “Talk like a pirate day” or the Large Hadron Collider launch day, you will invariably bump into numerous websites with unfamiliar new logos intended to commemorate the day.
Such special logos are uploaded for one day only and the next day you will get the usual looks on the very same sites and it is hard to find any purpose to such logos other than entertaining their users for a moment. But at the same time I think it is quite obvious that users would not have been offended by absence of such a dedicated logo.
Of course the vast majority of such holiday logos are just small modifications of their existing corporate ones so they don’t take all that much time to create, but to me it shows one thing: the company has a graphics designer with nothing better to do. And since usually startups prefer to outsource the design and interface tasks instead of paying a full-time designer who will hardly have any full-time work anyway. So a company that can afford a dedicated designer to work on things like holiday logos is definitely a company that has money to burn.
This is very similar to the previous approach but takes way more time from a designer. This time you are absolutely certain the company has all the money to burn because the designer(s) it has currently has no tasks at all. What’s more, they are generous enough not to fire an employee who has nothing to do – but come up with a full redesign in this case.
The worst part is that, unlike one-day holiday logos, this idea can be even dangerous because the experience shows that users are rarely (if ever) happy with whatever redesigns they are offered by their favorite web applications. People simply get accustomed to what they already like and don’t have any idea why they should use something else if they are totally happy with the current situations. So such a redesign can result in users outrage – so probably letting your designer go could be a better idea from the very beginning.
Naturally there are products that are impossible or difficult to use without various browser elements – like bookmarking buttons or toolbars. And of course such toolbars get the most downloads from users – simply because people tend to use what they actually need. But there are other situations that always make me question if the company has no better things to do at all – launching toolbars that no one will be inclined to use at all.
The only purpose of such toolbars is to turn your visitors into very loyal visitors who will come back again and again because the toolbar will keep reminding there is some new content on the site. But the problem is that such toolbars rarely offer any real value to users and since we all have crowded enough browsers already, people will think hard before downloading and installing anything new.
So when I see a company announcing public availability (of course their PR people also have enough time to submit press releases to the entire world when they launch yet another nonsense of a feature) of a toolbar that does nothing but allows users to search the content of this website or notifies users when some new content is published, I know for sure that the company has too many developers that have too few things to do.
Contests for the best new ideas
Usually when a product is good and popular to some extent, users will be generous to suggest enough new features for your entire development team to spend the next 2 years coding 24*7. But of course there are products that already seem to be perfect enough for users not to need anything beyond what they already have – simply because they are happy with the available functionality.
But somehow in the internet world you will rarely see a company that will admit their product is actually perfect and does not any further improvements. In fact, the reasons are quite obvious here: if your product does not need any further development, you will have to keep only some employees to support existing functionality and let everyone else go. Who will want to do that to such a great team?
So if you yourself are totally out of ideas on how you could improve your product and your users don’t submit feedback with fresh ideas, the solution is to have a contest (with some nifty prizes, of course) and crowdsource generation of the next steps on the road map to your users. With nice incentives they could easily come up with a few ideas that will help you keep your team busy – at least until you can think of the next big idea that will revolutionize the web and will start coding a new project.
Of course there is nothing actually wrong about all these activities and users might even enjoy some of them. But the risky part is that if a company does not know what their developers should do, chances are all their developers will eventually leave for good and your favorite product will remain unsupported and neglected.
So my final idea is very simple: if something is not broken, you should not really fix it so if you have too much free time on your hands, you’d better spend it thinking of how you can actually improve your product instead of doing something only for the sake of doing.