Is the incompleteness of your application hiding behind the term ‘Simple’?


Everybody likes simplicity, developers and users (I have a simple view of the world).

I like simplicity too:

  • I enjoy donating or throwing stuff away
  • I resist buying more stuff
  • when I travel, for one week or for one year, I only take a 30L backpack
  • I enjoy reading

The point I want to make today is that too often, developers will claim their application is simple where in fact their application is incomplete.

I will use some famous examples to illustrate my point.

If I mention 37 Signals to a developer / entrepreneur, the first adjective that comes in mind to him is simplicity (often even before he actually tried any of their application). However, although people use simplicity as a positive adjective, when it is a replacement for incompleteness it becomes a negative word.

The most obvious example is the Tada List from 37 Signals. The application is so simple it is unusable, it is incomplete. Actually, all the to-do list applications I have tried claim to be simple, it is not a differentiator anymore. Stop using simplicity when you should be using incomplete:

Simple to-do list application -> Incomplete to-do list application

Another example that inspired me to write this blog post. An entrepreneur told me yesterday he liked the simplicity of KissMetrics. To me KissMetrics looks like another case of Simplicitrite (a new disease among developers / entrepreneurs).

Yes, KissMetrics what it does very well but it is not enough.

Why on earth would I use their product when I already use Google Analytics (99% of the web developers do too)? Google Analytics is already providing me with the same features plus more, for free and with more reliability. My pages don’t need an additional javascript to load and I don’t have to check my traffic reports in two different applications. KissMetrics doesn’t provide enough value for me to use both. KissMetrics is too simple, it is incomplete.

(I am aware that KissMetrics is applying the lean startup principle that promotes to publish a minimum viable product and iterate based on feedback. So we can definitely expect KissMetrics to come up with new versions that will remove the incompleteness tag, I simply wanted to point the line between simplicity and incompleteness)

Look at your own applications. If you use the term ‘simple’ to describe them, are they really simple or were you too lazy to polish them with the last details that would make them simple AND great?

If your application was a four piece jigsaw puzzle (simple), have you only implemented three pieces? (incomplete)?

Is my drawing simple or incomplete?