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

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Respond? Who Me? Of Course

OK, so I took the bait. I will respond to "Features Creep is NOT the Problem" by Louis Kessler. Anyway, who can resist capitalization. First of all, I did not make up the term, "Feature Creep" neither am I the first person to blame feature creep as a major issue. For starts, lets take a look at the Wikipedia article on feature creep. In the Wikipedia article the problem is defined as follows"
Feature creep, creeping featurism or featuritis is the ongoing expansion or addition of new features in a product, such as in computer software. Extra features go beyond the basic function of the product and so can result in over-complication rather than simple design. Viewed over a longer time period, extra or unnecessary features seem to creep into the system, beyond the initial goals.
Here is another observation from Wikipedia:
At the maturity stage, with competitive products occupying the space, new features are introduced ("auto-reverse", "stereo with extra bass", "shock proof for jogging", "waterproof in the rain"...etc.) in order to differentiate brands beyond merely price point, and to create brand demand over price demand.
Now I will illustrate what I was talking about in my original article by picking on one of the products mentioned in Louis' blog post: the Apple iPhone. Remember, I am a die hard Apple fan and have had every model of the iPhone so far.

We are presently on the eve of yet another iPhone release, this one is going to be called (somewhat surprisingly) the iPhone 5S. I am positive, given the analysis in the opposing blog that I did not demand that my present iPhone be updated with a fingerprint identification system. It is more than apparent that the iPhone in the "mature" stage mentioned above. It is also very clear that there are dozens of competing products that have more or less successfully imitated and copied the iPhone. So, in an attempt to maintain market position and absent any outstanding new developments, Apple, true to form, decides to add features. As Louis has observed, they have already added a camera, a recording capability, speech commands, a slightly larger screen, and are well on the way to upgrading the system to iOS 7, so where could they go with the product but add more features. Can you really believe that the addition of new features is driven by customer demand? One of the most annoying things about the new features is a new connector for charging and syncing the iPhone. That means I have to buy all new cables if I want to connect to my iPhone. If I upgrade to the new iPhone 5S, will I have to throw away some of my other accessories?

And by the way, my original version iPad cannot be upgraded to iOS 6 much less iOS 7. So there go the old feature-full devices.

And further, by the way, all the claims that smartphone cameras are "really good" are totally false. They are adequate for many people's needs. So are point-and-shoot cameras. But the lens and the size of the sensor makes the camera and no matter how many pixels they beef them up with, they are still dinky little point-and-shoot cameras. Just my opinion as a photographer.

I very much agree with Louis' assessment that bad design is a problem. Right on! Bad design is a basic problem. But another problem is trying to compete by continually adding new features. I will still refrain from picking on any of the genealogy programs; some fall well into this category. However, I will take exception with the defense of Microsoft Word. The so-called "Ribbon" is impenetrable. I use the program virtually every day and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out the organization or even the use of some of the features. Here is a screen shot of the top command icons for Windows:

Just one example. We have had a professional publishing company for the past 30 years. We use very complicated programs such as Adobe InDesign and such on a daily basis. Complicated is not the problem. Guess what? Microsoft Word has a Publishing function. As professionals, we would cringe when someone would bring in a document formatted by Word. Why? Because frequently, the layout in Word would not print properly and the project would have to be completely redone in another program. The problem is adding features beyond the original use of the program and further, adding features that really don't do a very good job to boot.

Now I will talk about one feature on almost every genealogy program in existence that doesn't work well; that is the merge function. Some programs work better than others but every genealogical database program I have tried has a hit-and-miss merge function. Sure, you can go through the database and merge each duplicate entry by hand, but when you rely on the merge function to find the duplicates, I can be sitting there looking at two completely duplicate entries and run the merge function and nothing happens. Then I have to go in manually and merge the two obvious duplicates. This is the same in every program I have used and I have used a great many. So, instead of making their programs work, they add new features. Having a workable merge function would mean you would have to admit that all along it did not work.

In summary, I fully agree that bad design is a problem, but feature creep is also a problem. I am aware of hundreds of genealogists who are using Personal Ancestral File simply because it is easy to use and not full of features they don't need, didn't ask for and ignore when they are provided.

Let's hope someone makes a really good, simple, elegant, functional genealogy program that can become the new standard. And then they can start adding features all over again.


  1. Agree with product design as principal underlying issue. For many outfits, the design philosophy is intended to exert control over what the user may do rather than support flexibility. Remember 'Clippie' and the stupid dog?

  2. James,

    Thanks for your response. One more round?


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