Is Simple The New Black?

Simplicity has been coming up in the blogosphere lately. This is mostly due to Twitter getting mainstream attention, mainly because the service is so simple. I talked about this before when comparing the complexities of Twitter, FriendFeed and SocialMedian:

Why is Twitter so popular? Because it is simple. Is there a learning curve? No, or at least nothing you could not figure out in about 10 minutes. Is it hard to use? No, just go to the website, type your update and click the update button.

Allen Stern agrees with this idea in his interesting comparison to the infomercial world:

make your startup look “less hard”. Twitter gets a ton of signups … because it doesn’t look hard. You signup, and you write simple messages.

Lastly, MG Siegler talks about some applications that do only one or two things really well. The big point from his post was this money quote:

One kickass feature far outweighs a dozen half-assed ones. Focus on that one.

Why is simplicity back in vogue? Mainly because people have figured out that you can gain a large audience if you are not trying to do too much. FriendFeed is a perfect example of why complexity becomes daunting for the user. Twitter may get comments of “what is it for?”, but it is really simple to use so people try it. Have you ever given a demo of FriendFeed to someone who is not an early adopter? You get that “deer in the headlights” look very quickly. There is too much to do and too much going on. Their new redesign is focusing on the ease of use, so they are trying to attack the complexity problem.

Part of the problem is that each new web site and application wants to be the next big thing. Aggregators were all the rage of 2008 for early adopters. However, the aggregation services like FriendFeed were complex and only people devoted to figuring things out would really stay for the long term. I am still a FriendFeed addict, and I am very happy with the direction of the redesign.

Do you really need to be the next big thing? Seth Godin talked about the problem of always trying to get bigger, and as usual had a fantastic money quote:

It’s about getting bigger…Compared to what? You’re never going to be the biggest, so it seems like being better is a reasonable alternative.

As a startup, maybe we should not be looking to be the next big thing. Maybe we should try to be a better alternative. By focusing on simplicity, we might dominate that one thing. That startup may never be Google, but dominating a niche is definitely a lucrative proposition. Would you rather dominate a niche, or be one of many also-rans, struggling to find revenue?

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