Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Genealogy Programs and Features Creep

Once upon a time there was this really remarkable program called a word processor. You could type on a keyboard and words magically appeared on the screen. It was simple. It was elegant. It did everything you needed to do to write letters, books, reports, everything. Then something happened to the program. It caught a terrible disease. The disease was called feature creep. One by one, features began to grow and grow. Eventually, the simple elegant word procession program almost disappeared. There were so many features, it was hard to find the program. One day, the word processing functions just faded away. No one noticed. There were so many other features that they had forgotten the main reason for the program's existence. The end.

This is not a fairy tail. This is the real life of most computer programs. Presently, the simple, elegant genealogical database programs are being swallowed up by feature creep. Rather than concentrating on what they do really well, that is genealogy, they are slowly evolving into a mass of features that will eventually replace all that was simple and elegant about the original program. Every commercial product in our society is infected with the same disease; cars, trucks, computers, refrigerators, stoves, even athletic shoes. Nothing, that is nothing is immune to the insidious infection of feature creep. The basic operation of feature creep depends on adding new features every once and while so people will buy new products or upgrade the old ones.

What we all really need is functions, not features. We do not need cars that talk, smartphones that are smarter than we are and genealogy programs that do everything but be simple and elegant. Apple got it right; for awhile. They had simple and elegant products. Then feature creep infected their whole product line. Now my iPhone is more complicated than my desktop computer. A long time ago, Microsoft got it right with a simple and elegant word processing program called Word. Now, with Word's almost fatal infection of feature creep, it is a bloated nightmare of features of so many levels as to be hardly recognizable as a word processor.

Every so often, some one decides it is time to return to the simple and elegant. But no matter how hard they try, they are almost immediately infected with feature creep and begin to add functions and features. I am not going to point fingers at any particular genealogical database program. They are all infected. I have yet to see one product that was not claimed to have new, improved and better features than the last version. If only it were true.

My new Prius V is a very nice car. It has 32 computers built in. It can do everything but wash dished and water the lawn. Seriously, I have a manual that is hundreds of pages long outlining all the features of the car. Guess what? I don't use half of them. Meanwhile, it has lost some of the features that were simple and elegant in previous years' models. The same thing is true of my complicated genealogical database programs. They are very good at what they do, but they are loaded with features I neither need nor even bother to learn. I am sure the newer, updated programs will be even more feature heavy and the infection will continue to spread.

The king of feature creep is Adobe Photoshop. It has so many features, that people who learn only 100 or so of the features are crowned as Photoshop Experts. Apparently, some of the genealogical database programs are competing for the prize of having the most features. In racing off to be infected with feature creep, did any of them think what functions the average genealogist might use and need in a genealogy program? How about making a program with better functions and fewer features?

Right now, I am looking for simple and elegant. I have found neither.

And by the way, operating systems and online programs are not immune. Neither are online genealogical database programs.

Once upon a time, there was this really remarkable, simple and elegant program. The end.