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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

An observation on shareware - feature bloat is widespread

I just wanted to post something a bit more constructive and encouraging now... really...

I believe that much shareware/ISV ware is overengineered dung. I think that opportunities definitely exist for rather prosaic products in which the developer puts the geek ego aside entirely and focuses on the user experience.

My story: I am considering developing a somewhat trivial but highly functional enhancement for Windows, and marketing it myself. So, once I had the idea, I first decided to search for equivalent applications. I downloaded and tried three different utilities from download.com and one other that a friend recommended from the ISV's web site.

Holy crap! What I found was that, in EVERY case, the core function was just about unnoticeable. Every such product suffered from extreme feature-bloat.

The general type of application I am considering is a clipboard enhancement with specific features.

I ran into one such clipboard "manager" that gives the user the ability to save their clipboard data to either a local or a remote database! Another was a P2P application - it allows the clipboard database to be remotely shared.

Holy jeez! These guys probably spent months on these "features". Which <1% of all end users will have a clue about. Which add NOTHING to the core function for which the products were selected.

If I do this - the micro ISV thing - my strong preference is to develop a "meaningful" product with a concise, easily described feature set that I can pump out relatively quickly. And it (happily) appears that solving a well defined and common problem is relatively rare in shareware, if my tiny sample is indicative at all.

So, that's today's rant. Opportunities appear to exist where other vendors don't take care of business and instead indulge their techie sensibilities.
Bored Bystander Send private email
Monday, November 07, 2005
I agree that less is more.  I've not looked at a lot of shareware recently, so can't comment on that trend.

I think that if your product isn't selling well, it's tempting to add features. If you're a programmer, everything looks like a programming problem.

If your marketing isn't targeted, you end up getting tangential customers requesting features because your product is "almost" what they're looking for.

This is an example of when NOT to listen to the customer. Although, technically, those are NOT your customers. They're actually looking for another product.

Or, it's the programmer's ego ("I'll do the hardest feature I can think of.Wow! it worked")
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap µISV} Send private email
Monday, November 07, 2005
well in the clipboard example, probably two things are happening

1- the developers feel they need to differentiate themselves so they design a product for a market they dont know if it exists or not (p2p clipboard...also known as cut and paste into an IM window)
2- they developers customers have asked for xyz feature.

but i agree with you, the more the app doesnt get in the way and does what it does and does it the best, the better the app will be.
joe sparks
Monday, November 07, 2005
1.You start out with a simple idea
2.create a utility around it
3.The software does the job very well but some users suggest   
  for some more features
4.You enhance it and release it. You enhance and release it because thats what your existing users want and thats what will bring you more money and new users.
5.Apply steps 3 and 4 repeatedly for the life of the product.
6.Now in this process the simple idea turns into a huge application and the new users gets overwhelmed by all this.
7.So a certain someone notices this as a gap in the market and decides to just create a simple utility which performs the simple job in a simple manner. And there begins another trail of steps from 1..7

A very good example of exhibiting balance is Google.

It started out with a simple idea, "Search". The web page just had one box to enter keywords. Over the years it still has one main input box but it has added tons of features and services which revolve around their basic "Search" idea. A new user who wants to search the web can still do it without getting overwhelmed by it.

I guess,a good product should always strive to maintain the balance of simplicity and becoming a Swiss Army Knife.
nj Send private email
Monday, November 07, 2005
"The general type of application I am considering is a clipboard enhancement with specific features."

To be honest with you, this is probably not something that I would ever go looking for.  Let me take a step back.  If someone produces a commercial shrink-wrap package and arranges for it to be sold at office supply stores and computer stores, it'll do very well.

If you're expecting people to Google for your site, download, scan, install and configure your product, these people are probably so experienced that the last thing they need is a clipboard extender.

I'll apologize and admit something up front.  It's very likely Bored Bystander doesn't want anyone to steal his idea, so he described it as vaguely as possible.  I also think he kind of missed the point - there are so many bloated clipboard-style programs out there that they're going to extreme lengths to distinguish themselves or scratch very very specific itches (such as being able to save to a database).

I believe that if Bored is serious about getting his product out there, he's going to have to do a heck of a lot of marketing.  And unfortunately, one of the most common marketing tactics out there is "not only will [this] do what you need, it'll also do X, Y and Z in case you ever need it."

While we're on the subject, the clipboard enhancement I most need is a quick and dirty drawing program somewhere between Powerpoint and Visio such that I can sketch out something like an ER diagram, process model or use case (when I meet with customers) and later import that sketch into an enterprise architecture modeling tool.

Good luck.  :)
Anonymous Coward
Monday, November 07, 2005
Bored, with shareware the reason those features exist is that the developer wanted to learn how to do that sort of programming. That's how that sort of stuff gets into shareware.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Clipmate is a great product for clip management.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
In my opinion, no shareware application is complete until it can defragment your harddrive.

Janek Schwarz Send private email
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
My shareware started out totally bare bones.

Features got added because the customers were asking for them.  Sales go up as features are added.

Everybody buys for a different reason, I find.  Some buy just because of some obscure way of using a feature that I never even thought of.

What I'm attempting to do, with some success, is to keep the main function of the application very simple for the lowest common denominator of user.  Then add the features under an "Advanced Options" tab for more sophisticated users.  Thus, it becomes totally optional and not as intimidating for less techno savvy folks, who can ignore the advanced stuff.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
I can see 'feature creep' due to the desire for self education and I can see how a selling product gradually becomes larger as customers ask for more features.

The stuff I've downloaded and evaluated makes me wonder how they got any users to begin with. I did choose utilities that had decent (relatively high) download rates and totals.

I have run into this in the past when I have looked for freeware or shareware solutions for things I wanted to do. I have learned that one has to dedicate a quantity of time (an hour or two) to downloading and trying several different applications in order to find one that was worthwhile. Often, I would give up.

I'm still skeptical. My guess is still that there are thousands of $29.95 shareware products around with poor user interfaces and confusing operational concepts that simply never sold that much to begin with.

And, as I grumbled in the last thread I started, that's one of the "interesting" things about micro ISV life. There's no statistics or quantification of what's out there, since most of them are not formalized businesses and there's no master directory of micro ISV/shareware software. It's really the wild west.
Bored Bystander Send private email
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Dear Bored,

You obviously know very little about how shareware works.

People BUY features.

They look at program A and at program B.. program A is very simple, program B includes 200 features + the kitchen sink.

They buy .. TADA!!! .. program B!!!
Experienced ISV
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Thanks for the personalized condescension. I was wondering when it would start.

My point was that most of the applications I have seen in shareware are NOT successful yet ARE feature bloated.
Bored Bystander Send private email
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Experienced, do they though? I thought they bought the first thing that actually worked :-)
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
I can dumb down to the level of an ordinary non technical customer rather rapidly.

When I download and install a shareware product that is feature laden but so blimped up that it's confusing, my first reactions are: THIS SUCKS! WHERE THE HELL DO I START? HOW DO I DO WHAT I NEED TO DO? WHAT IS ALL THIS CRAP FOR?

I'm not asserting that features don't sell, but that customers look for products because they have some need ... not because they want to see some features.
Bored Bystander Send private email
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Hope I'm not being too obvious here, but another option is to split it off into "Personal Version" and "Enterprise Version" or whatever.  A home user would buy the personal version for $x. If a company wants to buy a clipboard program that allows their employees to save to a remote database and do all sorts of arcane tricks, they buy the enterprise version for $x + $25 or whatever. Just a thought.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders Send private email
Thursday, November 17, 2005

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