Coffee maker

Arseni Mourzenko
Founder and lead developer
December 31, 2014
Tags: rant 34 short 50

Take a cof­fee mak­er. What is its pur­pose? Its only pur­pose is to make cof­fee. It’s the only thing it does and knows. It has only one but­ton, and every­body know how to use it. Now take the Boe­ing 787. How many but­tons are there? How many peo­ple can land it safe­ly at the air­port with no pre­lim­i­nary train­ing?

All oth­er things be­ing equal or held con­stant, more the de­vice rely on the en­vi­ron­ment and more it does, less is its ease of use. And still, peo­ple be­lieve that soft­ware prod­ucts must mag­i­cal­ly stop fol­low­ing this rule which ap­plies quite well to any real world ob­ject.

Word­Press is a per­fect ex­am­ple. When Michel Valdrighi cre­at­ed the Word­Press pre­de­ces­sor, he wasn't imag­in­ing a sys­tem which will do every­thing you can dream of, in­clud­ing pow­er­ing e-com­merce web­sites. But this blog/CMS plat­form be­came pop­u­lar over time, and users re­quest­ed more and more fea­tures, mak­ing it more and more dif­fi­cult to find the right tool in a huge set of tools for every need.

Re­cent­ly, I was re­quest­ed by a mar­ket­ing com­pa­ny to help their cus­tomer with her Word­Press-based web­site. That was the first clue which showed that some­thing is very wrong: in or­der to just get the things done, the cus­tomer with no tech­ni­cal back­ground needs an as­sis­tance of a de­vel­op­er.

Af­ter study­ing the case, it ap­peared that the sit­u­a­tion was much worse. Here are some is­sues:

Just with this sim­ple il­lus­tra­tion, it ap­pears that the most pop­u­lar blog/CMS prod­uct fails to be easy to use or in­tu­itive. But it's not sur­pris­ing. When the re­quire­ments grow, the prod­uct be­come more and more com­pli­cate to both de­sign by the de­vel­op­ers and han­dle by the users. The more fea­tures there are, the more ex­pe­ri­enced the end user has to be.

In essence, the end user has to choose:

The “pow­er­ful but easy” is not an op­tion here.

What does it mean for the soft­ware de­vel­op­ment mar­ket?

Since this mod­el is es­sen­tial­ly bro­ken, what is the al­ter­na­tive?

For the ba­sic needs, the cus­tomer must in­vest a lit­tle of her time in or­der to learn how things work: learn how to in­stall Word­Press, how to add foot­er and head­er, how to add im­ages, etc. Pay­ing $100 is not an op­tion: the per­son gets the prod­uct, but not the re­quired ex­pe­ri­ence.

For the spe­cif­ic needs or niche prod­ucts, the only choice ap­pears to be hand­made, ex­pen­sive so­lu­tions, in-house IT de­part­ment pro­ject, or some­thing sim­i­lar in­volv­ing tech­ni­cal peo­ple at any stage of the process.