Jason Fried Web 2.0 Keynote - Be a Software Curator

How many of you are in software? You’re lucky. All you have to do is type. You don’t have to worry about physics. What you work on is easy to change. It’s not like you’re building a house. You can build software anywhere, in your house, in a plane, inside outside. Doesn’t matter you can build software. You’re lucky you can do all these things.

But you have to worry about some things that others don’t have to worry about. Take this water bottle, if it’s heavy I know it’s full. If it was twice as big and painted solid we could agree it was a terrible design. We can look at an object and know whether or not something has good or bad design just by looking at it. Software doesn’t have that kind of instant ‘a-ha’ nebulous feedback. It doesn’t have edges. It doesn’t cast shadows. It’s just there and often expands and continues to expand. That’s one of the really tough tricks of software development.

What would your software be like if it was physical? What would it be like if it was in your hand? Comfortable or spiky? Too big on one side and not on the other? Shiny or textured? On a table would it fall over or would it stick up? What would happen if it was a physical device. What would it look like if it was a car? Would it look like this?

The first version of software is pretty good. Version 2 and 3 pretty good. 4 and 5 might be the best. After that it devolves. This is the problem of saying yes to too many customers. You have to have discipline to keep your product simple, clean, elegant, and streamlined. You want to be the shepherd. Think of yourself as the editor, what goes in what goes out.

Think of yourself as a curator. You want to be a curator. You have to decide what comes in and what goes out. Curator’s job is to say no. Curator takes an entire universe of options to decide whether or not something makes it into a museum. If you think of your product as a museum and your features as art then you’re in charge. If you take all of the possible art and put it into a room it doesn’t make it a museum. All the art in the world in a single room isn’t a museum it’s a warehouse.

Listen to your customers but innovate on behalf of your entire customer base. As time goes on certain customers become more and more vocal. Be very careful about agreeing to everything the vocal minority says. Customers know a lot about what they want but not about what’s best for your product. If you listen to just a few people you’re going to have a problem. This is why you have to think of yourself as a curator.

As software goes on you trend towards bloat. Bloat is a tricky thing to find. Software doesn’t have a form so it’s hard to figure it out. Once you hit bloat, though, it’s really hard to go back. Once you hit the point where it’s too hard to go back they’ll start over. It’s dangerous.

Keep an eye out for bloat and these feature requests. Listen to customers but don’t do everything they say. Make your software a collection of art. Not a warehouse. When 37Signals built their second product called HighRise they would build this incredibly successful sophomore follow up. Thought about all the possible things they could do with a CRM. Two months in they were just doing it all and it turned out to be pretty shitty. Adding more and adding more without being critical of what went in along the way. They had to throw it out and start over.

Don’t get into the bad habit of saying yes to requests. It’s hard to change expectations. Customers will request a feature and tell you they want one thing but not what they really need. They want a way to collaborate on comments on a to-do list but they don’t know how to enunciate what they’re actually after. When 37Signals was building campfire for all of these things campfire could actually do. It could possibly have video conferencing, possibly have audio capabilities. What they actually ultimately needed was much, much simpler.

When you get all these ideas that your customers have you have to say more than you say yes. Your software has to be a curated collection of ideas, a curated collection of features.

Question: What’s the best way to turn down a feature bloat from within a company?

Answer: Just ask the person who asked for it to build it. I’m not going to build that shit. Build it yourself.

Question: How would you redesign office?

Answer: Office is fine. Modern office isn’t about spreadsheets and word processors anymore. It’s about collaboration. Make it more collaborative.

Question: Who should be the chief curator?

Answer: Everyone has to have that in them. The DNA of your company has to be about curation. It ultimately has to come from the top. Steve Jobs is probably the ultimate curator in the world.

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