inessential by Brent Simmons

More about deleting features

I got an email observing that I was on a minimalism-and-deleting kick — but, thing is, I’m always on that particular kick. It’s not a kick — it’s how I work.

Here’s the schizo thing about software development (at least on Macs):

1. Everybody praises apps that don’t have a ton of preferences and features.

2. Everybody asks for some new preferences and features.

(Okay, not everybody. Not you, I know. I mean everybody else.)

To make it worse:

1. Everybody thinks they’re representative of the typical user, so what they want ought to be a no-brainer.

2. And they act like you put skunks in their fridge if you don’t do whatever-it-is.

(Okay, again — not you. You’re cool. I’m talking about the others.)

The problem is 100 times worse when it comes to deleting features.

I hope it’s self-evident that apps with too much stuff are, in general, bad. And that there are some features whose time has come and gone, and there are features that don’t get used much.

When working on a new version of the app, before I think about the features I want to add, I take a look at what I can get rid of first. It’s a quality-of-app thing. I think of it as making space for the new stuff — but first I have to take the wrecking ball to some old stuff. (If I don’t, you get feature sprawl. Yuck.)

But, the thing is, these are features that some people somewhere use and like. And they’ll be sad to see them go. It’s worse than skunks-in-the-fridge, it’s exploding skunks in bed.

It’s possible that, because my apps are free, I have some extra leeway when it comes to deleting features. It doesn’t feel like that — because I did it when they were for-pay, too.

But I heard from a developer earlier today who liked the idea that I would write about this issue. He didn’t say that his users were a bunch of drama queens suffering from OCD who hate change — but, if he had, I would have understood, despite the hyperbole. (He also could have said that his users were wickedly smart, and I would have said the same about mine. ;)

With any app with some longevity, it’s inevitable that some stuff will have to get deleted. NetNewsWire’s first public betas appeared six years ago: lots of stuff has been deleted.

But, every time, it’s still a mixed situation. Part of me just loves the process — touring the app, putting features in my cross-hairs, thinking about pulling the trigger, adding them to the hit list, then posting the list and getting feedback.

But part of me cringes, too, because I use software too. (Duh.) And I know what it’s like to see something I like change, and I know what it’s like to see a feature I like disappear. Even if there are alternatives, even if I know that I’m the rare one who actually cares about a given feature, I still don’t like it. I sympathize.

So one thing I like doing is getting as much feedback on the possibly-to-delete list as I can. I don’t put things up to a vote, because a vote doesn’t tell me the why of anything, and that matters more than just numbers.

I’ve learned a few specific things in the past few hours that I didn’t know: for instance, that people actually do use the HTML Archive feature. That people don’t use the automatic enclosure downloading feature very much, but they do like the possibility of manual downloading. (I didn’t, and don’t, intend to remove manual downloading of enclosures.)

In the end, though, I’m going to delete some features, add some new ones, and do my best to make it the best release of the app yet. All I can do.