Sexual Selection Of Cool Demo Features
Jens Alfke gives his $0.02 on the Google Wave debate in a blog post that he calls The Lost Lesson Of Instant Typing. It’s a reasonable take on the value of certain features of Wave, but I think that he also makes an interesting meta-point.
There are two parts to the life-cycle of a piece of software. In the first, it is trying to get funded, shipped, and bought. In the second, it is actually getting used. There are a lot of cases where a feature which is great for one part is bad for the other. In his example, the live-typing feature of Google Wave makes for a great demo, but users find that it actually inhibits their use of the product.
This is actually very similar to something in evolution called sexual selection. The classic example of sexual selection is the peacock. The enormous, brightly colored plumage of the peacock does not make his life easier, but it does make him more attractive to peahens. As a result of that, he produces more offspring and the result is more peacocks with the genes for wild looking plumage.
Cool demo features in software are kind of similar. When a VC sees the cool demo, they want to fund the product. When a manager sees the cool demo, they want to green light the project. When a customer sees the cool demo, they want to buy the product. This means that the world ends up with a lot of software with cool demo features. In many cases, none of this is directly related to how happy the customer will be when they actually use the product. The result is that the world tends to end up with a lot of software that demos well, but not necessarily a loft of software that works well for its user.