The forgotten cost of features

A perfectly blank sheet of white paper is a tool of infinite possibility. For input you could use a pencil, a pen, a crayon, a marker, a stamp, a brush or more. You could use all of those at once. You can write or draw or paint in any direction. Even multiple directions on the same sheet. You can use any color you want. How you enter data onto it and how that information is structured seems almost limitless. That flexibility and power is available to you because of it’s lack of features. In fact, it is featureless – devoid of them.

Let’s add a feature. Let’s put some ruled lines on the paper. Make no mistake, this feature adds value. It allows me to be able to write neatly by using the lines as a guide. This makes the data more legible by providing a structure for me to follow. It also has a cost. It takes away some of the flexibility. Could I still write sideways in opposite direction of the lines? Sure. Am I likely to? No. Why? Well, it would go against the provided structure and thus make the data less legible. Ruled lines would intersect and, to a small extent, obscure my words and drawings.

OK, next feature – A box at the top left corner of the short end of the page. Perfect. That empty box has some value. Perhaps I could write a date in there. Perhaps I could use a colored marker to fill it in – color code the page. Perhaps I could put the name of the project that this piece of paper belongs to. Does the box take away from the available free space on the page? Sure it does. It is a trade off though. What I give up in space I gain in value right? Well, that depends on the perspective of the individual, but I think I like it.

Enough on that. Let’s add a feature to that box we added. Lets pre-print what we think people should use that box for. You know, to make it clearer for the end user. Let’s print a label in that box called “Title”. Perfect. Now I have added value by reducing the amount of thought a user of this paper has to put into figuring out why that box is there, right? I think you can now see where I am going with this…

I think it is far too easy to look at the addition of features to anything – hardware, software, analog, digital, even a simple piece of blank paper – as a benefit without also recognizing the associated and often forgotten cost.

In the world of hardware and software, the companies, developers, and tools that get it right weigh the cost of adding features heavily and take every feature addition under great consideration. In fact, they reject most feature requests right out of the starting gate. They appreciate feature requests but more often than not [read them and ignore them](http://www.37signals.com/svn/archives2/getting_real_forget_feature_requests.php). They simply let the signal rise above the noise to determine what features to add. When they do add a feature, they do it in the most unobtrusive and seamless way possible. They are careful to make sure the value far outweighs the cost.

The costs do not stop there. In fact, if you add a feature you now have to support that feature if it breaks or does not work as the user expects it to. Also, adding a feature could actually loose you a sale. Those of us (I am not alone) who are feature wary may opt for something else just for the simplicity.

This does not mean that you cannot have a ton of features yet still maintain flexibility. One example is [TextMate](http://macromates.com/). TextMate is a very powerful text editing program for the Mac. It is chock full of features and has a robust plug in architecture that allows you to add even more. Yet all that power is hidden in the UI. When you launch TextMate all you see is a blank white page ready for input. The features are not in your way. If you just want to get some writing done in plain text you have the only feature you need right there. The power is not there unless you need it and then mostly as a menu item optionally accessible via a keyboard shortcut.

On the other hand, Notes.app on the [iPhone](http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/) is very basic in features. You can take notes, you can email a note, and that is about it. But that is what makes it great. You can use Notes.app any way you want. Type up a blog post draft. Enter in a book recommendation. Make a shopping list. Note the dimensions of that room you need to buy furniture for. In fact, it’s lack of features and structure are what provide it’s true power.

As you can see from these to disparate examples, It is not about not adding features. Features in an of themselves are not a problem. It is about adding the right features and only the right ones. I like [ruled paper with a predefined area for a title and date](http://www.levenger.com/PAGETEMPLATES/STATIC/Generic.asp?blink=Y&Params=category=326-888|level=2-3|link=LN) just like the next guy. It is about understanding that for every added feature there is a cost and not forgetting to consider that.

Elements of Style for Twitter: The Art of The Follow

> _This is the second of my series of posts attempting to provide some proper style guidelines for Twitter. It is my hope that, with enough uptake, these will help raise the level of conversation and quality on Twitter._

**Following**

There are many criteria and considerations one may choose to examine when deciding whether or not to follow someone on Twitter. In fact, many criteria are needed to consider such a weighty decision because every person you follow changes not only the number of tweets in your stream but also the overall personal value of Twitter itself.

Here are some important criteria:

* **Tweets** – Quickly scan through several pages of the persons tweet history. Are any of interest and/or value to you? If so, how many? Place value on quality over quantity.

* **Profile** – How one describes themselves in such a small amount of space is often a very accurate picture of their interests and what is important to them. Does it interest you?

* **Website** – Click on the link they provide to their personal website. Read what is offered there. Does that help to paint a better picture of them and their interests? Do they align with yours?

* **Product** – Do they produce a product that you use? Do you care to hear about new releases or other product news?

Here are some important considerations:

* **Relationships** – As a social network, Twitter is designed to cultivate and maintain relationships. Even those who use Twitter solely as a microblogging platform at the least is seeking to build a relationship with the audience. Be respectful of this and follow no more people than you are capable of cultivating a relationship with, no matter how small or one sided.

* **Your “noise” threshold** – How many people can you follow and keep up without losing important and useful information in between the less useful tweets? Everyone is different here. Some people can follow thousands and be OK with that. I would suggest that 250-300 is the maximum for most people.

* **Your time threshold** – Anyone you add to your Twitter stream will increase the amount of time you will need to read and process those tweets. Time has value. Consider adding people costly.

**Being followed**

If you would like to be the sort of Twittizen that people would like to follow, here are some style elements you should follow:

* **Give people a good reason to follow.** – Use Twitter to provide a mixture of useful information, humorous asides (if your have good humor) and occasionally answer the single question Twitter asks (“What are you doing?”). The information and humor is why people may follow but the ambient intimacy the question asked creates helps people get to know and, thus form a relationship, with you.

* **Who are you?** – Make sure your bio and the web link you post therein are accurate representations of you and what you hope to offer those who follow. Doing so allows them to be able to make an informed choice.

* **Be helpful.** – If someone posts a question in an area that you have some knowledge, share it. If there is a product that you love and use, evangelize it. Reach out to those who have a need as it raises the overall karmic nature of Twitter.

* **Be respectful.** – As stated above, people who choose to follow you are investing their time and attention which come at a high cost. Honor that.

Elements of Style for Twitter: ReTweets and Follow Friday

This is the first in what may end up being a series of posts. This is my attempt to provide some proper style guidelines for Twitter. It is my hope that, with enough uptake, these will help to raise the level of conversation and quality on Twitter. If you do not know what Twitter is (and hopefully you enjoy that rock you are living under) please see: http://twitter.com/

The Useful ReTweet

A ReTweet (RT) is the re posting of a tweet that someone you follow has posted so that your followers might be exposed to the information if they, themselves, do not follow the original author of the tweet.

Here is an example of how it is often done…

Original Tweet:

Here is a great link on personal productivity. Get your butt in gear: http://examplehere.com

ReTweet:

RT @patrickrhone: Here is a great link on personal productivity. Get your butt in gear: http://examplehere.com

The problem with this is that there is no context provided by the retweeter as to why he or she may find this important enough to retweet. It is for this reason that I generally suggest avoiding them. Instead, choose to do what I like to call a “via” instead.

Here is the Original Tweet again:

Here is a great link on personal productivity. Get your butt in gear: http://examplehere.com

Via:

This is a fantastic post about productivity. Really helped me out: http://examplehere.com (via @patrickrhone)

The advantage to this is that now those who follow you to hear your voice and opinions actually receive them. Not those that belong to someone who they may or may not choose to follow.

The Proper “Follow Friday”

Follow Friday is a kind of Twitter tradition. Basically, every Friday you post a Tweet to recommend people you think are worth following and include the #followfriday hashtag.

Here is an example of the usual and, in my opinion, unstylish norm for this:

Follow @person1, @person2, @person3, @person4, @person5, #followfriday

I hate it when people do it like this example (just spew a list of usernames). I think what would be far more stylish and useful to do something like this:

Follow @person1 for great quotes, funny asides and interesting links #followfriday

By doing so, you are telling your followers not only who you think they should follow but also why. Therefore they can make an informed choice on the matter without needing to do further research.

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