About once a week I have a conversation with someone that goes like this:
“We need a place to let people share ideas. But it also needs to be a place where people can expand on ideas and collaborate to build new ones. Also it needs to train people on the best way to develop ideas that fits with our approach. And It’d be best if it could have a different experience based on who visits, and what type of ideas they bring to the table. Also, we want to limit what ideas are visible. But the important thing is, it needs to encourage participation and collaboration.”
These conversations seldom go well, because the person in question thinks they’re asking for one thing. What they’re asking for is a half-dozen things, some of which they already have, some of which are unnecessary, but all of which are complex.
Regardless, they’ve hit on the idea that there’s a one-stop solution to a series of business needs, or consumer needs, or what have you, that are only tangentially related.
They’ve forgotten that the only reason a swiss army knife is successful, is because it only lets you do simple things, and it only lets you do one thing at a time.
The best digital experiences focus on solving one problem, well. At this point, someone will point out that Facebook does a dozen things, but it doesn’t, really. Facebook does one thing well - it connects you to your friends. The fact that this includes messages and photos and events and groups and tagging and birthday reminders is just a facet of friends being complex, not facebook being unfocused.
And the one major diversion, Facebook’s app platform, seems to be less and less important to the company now that they’ve started eyeing mobile, and transitioned to timeline.
If you want to do something complex, you should focus on that one thing. If not forever, than at least at first.
There’s a reason Minimum Viable Product caught on so well as a catch phrase - it forces entrepreneurs to focus on solving a core part of a core problem.
Don’t let people trick you into building a swiss army knife, if they want you to build something complicated into each function.
The best example of this is a smartphone, counterintuitively: the device itself does one core thing: allows you to run diverse applications. Each application does something more complicated, and generally, different teams are building each of those complex tools.
There’s a reason we have swiss army knives, and not swiss army cars.