I don’t own a cell phone but I love me my iTouch (which, in fact, is the missus’ cast-off from when she got an iPhone). Given the amount of time I spend waiting for things to happen, being able to whip the thing out to play with at any ti---actually, I’m gonna stop this analogy and move on…

One of the apps I bought on it was Solebon, which is a list of approximately 6,899 solitaire games by my last count. I had downloaded the free version which had about six games. I liked a couple and had a blast with it. So I figured that would scale if I bought the full version. But these days, I never play the thing.image

The reason for that is exactly the reason I bought it: more choices. I thought if I like two games out of six with the free version, then surely I’d like at least ten or so games in the paid version. But whenever I open it up for a “quick” game of something, I’m faced with a screen of thirty odd games to choose from, most of them with cryptic names like “Ambrose” or “Blind Alleys” or “Eight Out”.

There are simply too many to keep track of for me to figure out which ones I might like on a regular basis. And the “random game” feature is only marginally better because I always need to re-read the rules to whatever game I’m playing. In the end, I usually just skip over Solebon and go straight for the stand-alone Cribbage app I also got. Sure it doesn’t show the time at the time and it doesn’t always count points properly. But I don’t have to put any thought into it before I start the game.

This ties back to a project I’m working on, one in which the developers have free reign to decide on which features to include. And as a developer, my naturally tendency is “the more the better”. But as a user, it’s “don’t make me think”. Even during software installations, ninety percent of the time, I select Custom and proceed to accept all the defaults anyway.

Because of this, my teammate and I have been fairly ruthless in deciding on features. Unless it is something that 80% of users can absolutely not do without, it’s on our fictitious “future release” board.

One of the things that has seriously helped us in this regard is Balsamiq. Admittedly, I got a free license for it, but my partner didn’t and he has extolled its virtues on numerous occasions. I suspect we have saved ourselves many thousands of dollars but not working on features that may have seemed like no-brainers until we actually saw them in the context of a screen mock-up. Even something simple like an admin CRUD screen hasn’t gone unscathed. “Do we really need four columns? Will users actually care if they are able to upload a headshot?” BAM! Three days work, gone!

Obviously, this has the advantage of making the product easier to develop (at least in the short-term). But there’s another benefit. No user likes to have features taken away. Even if they are so obscure that only 3% of people use them, those 3% can be pretty vocal when they want to be.

Kyle the Optional