This post is inspired by the case of Goodreads. I started using that app several years ago and found it useful enough to keep it since then. It's a source of valuable book recommendations (if you follow the correct people, of course ;>) and a good registry of what I've already read (regardless of how the book was published and where I acquired it from). But what I use it for is not the point. The interesting fact is that for at least a few years, I don't see any changes in Goodreads:
- functionality is the same
- neither UI nor UX has changed at all
- there are no new integrations or other synergies due to collaboration with 3rd party
- few particular quirks (some could even call them bugs ;>) are still present - no one polished them
And no, it doesn't mean that Goodreads is dead. In fact, there seems to be as much activity as ever - people rate books, publish reviews, create lists & groups, and expand their social networks of readers. I get more notifications from Goodreads activity than from LinkedIn :)
So what's wrong with them?
Why doesn't the app evolve?
Why don't we get shiny new features every few weeks (or so)?
A few years ago, Goodreads was acquired by an e-commerce mogul - Amazon, so it's definitely not an issue of running out of funds. It doesn't seem like Amazon is trying to strangle the inconvenient product (e.g., because of acquihire strategy) or merge it with another, already existing service.
Goodreads ... just IS there. Good enough. Adequate. Done.
It does its job (that it was initially created to do). It doesn't pretend to be anything more than a website (and app) used to rate & review books. It doesn't drag you into the book metaverse. Neither does it make NFTs out of what you've read. It does just one thing, but well enough for people to stick with it.
It's not the first time I was thinking about that case. Initially, I was a tad irritated - don't they care (about me - their user!)? Shouldn't I look for a new equivalent (for the sake of novelty)? Yeah, I know it's irrational - but aren't we (humans of the Internet era) constructed that way?
To be precise: it's not that I have a lot of particular feature/improvement requests (when it comes to Goodreads). No, I just subliminally EXPECT all the (successful) software to change ALL THE TIME. I demand creativity and positive surprises from its creators (even if I don't pay for the software, yay). At least I used to, until I reflected more upon that.
Of course, that doesn't apply only to Goodreads. There are far more examples of successful software products that have barely changed over the last few years and ... that's OK:
- Bear Notes
- Kindle (app and e-ink reader as well)
- Roam Research
Needless to say, it doesn't mean no one is working on those apps. Quite the contrary: there are people working on the content, operations, maintenance, security, recommendation engines, and many other topics - which also require a lot of effort and skill. However, from the end-users perspective, the product is DONE. There's no visibly striking difference (apart from content) between what was visible take a year ago and now.
Of course, they have more things in common - to reach such a status (of not being forced to add features like there's no tomorrow), you need to reach some critical mass (of users). You have to build a solid brand first - these are all ultra-successful apps that sometimes are nearly synonyms of their industries (e.g. because they have pretty much invented & defined them).
OK, I guess it's time for a punch line.
The boom of sprawling Internet apps has accustomed us to software being never entirely done. What is even worse, in many cases, the perception of software value is based primarily on the velocity of change. Products that are getting too static are intuitively perceived as drying up, losing the race, or even an abandonware.
While in fact, the abundance of features is, in many cases, a worrying sign:
- The core functionality (unique value proposition) is not good (/valuable) enough to be paid for, so creators need to add more fluff for their product to appear more useful.
- Creators struggle with the identity of their product - what is it supposed to do? What kind of problem is it supposed to solve?
- There are deep-nested problems within the core functionality, but creators can't fix them in any other way than covering with more layers of abstraction (& complexity).
- There's enormous pressure from the competition, but the creators lack imagination on how to stand out - peppering the product with features no one asked for means a lot of effort, but it's actually the easiest (to pick & justify) path.
I think it'd do us all a lot of good if we've taken a closer look at those DONE products. What has made them successful? Why are they able to retain their market position w/o turning into swiss army knives? What can we learn from their story and apply in our future endeavors?