Robert Scoble, self-styled "Tech Geek Blogger" and one of the main users and evangelists of Web 2.0 services Twitter and FriendFeed in 2008 (Robert supposedly spent about 2,500 hours participanting on those services, prompting calls for an intervention from TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington – the post and its comment thread, on which I participated quite a bit, are a textbook lesson in "Nothing Sells Like Controversy" by the way), writes about almost anything tech, but always with a uniquely personal and questioning style that I view as more of a true expression of blogging then the rapid-fire news blogs that are now punched out by small armies of bloggers at TechCrunch, AlleyInsider, Gawker Media, asf.
Love him or hate him, no one could accuse him of not getting his hands dirty with actually using Web 2.0, including in the service of the creation of countless interview videos with both start-up and established players in the Tech Industry which he posts over on FastCompany.tv. His above mentioned participation actually does appear to border on the super-human, and he seems to at times be simultaneously asking, AND himself be a guinea-pig for, the question of where all of this technology usage might lead us next.
An astute commenter over on the aforementioned TechCrunch "Intervention Post" stopped to
wonder if 10 000 years from now, just one month’s worth of all Twitter content, if preserved, could provide an interesting historical clue to future generations of how life on earth was….like a Pompeii or Rosetta Stone unlocked secrets of past civilizations and languages. And who could blame them upon discovering such a treasure for thinking Robert Scoble the God of the Twitterverse?
Given all of this frantic Web 2.0 activity and the constant exponential expansion of information and information processing in all of its forms, I found it instructive that several of Robert’s recent posts appeared to confirm a theme that I usually try to drive home with many of my coaching clients: Simplicity wins. Or at least tends to confer an unfair advantage to those companies and entrepreneurs practicing it.
First, his post on his personal discovery of the joys of the dead-simple and low cost "Flip" video camera ("The best gadget I stole in 2008") – the one with the fold-out USB plug arm obviating the need for an extra cable, and one of the gadget sales hits of 2008 – reminds us that users want things to just work, without having to first navigate a dizzying array of menus, settings and options. "Do one thing and do it well" (enough), without requiring training just to do the average use case of that one thing, is the operative mantra.
The Flip starts and stops video recording with one large/obvious button, and records in formats that are immediately uploadable to YouTube et al. without further video processing. I opted for similar simplicity this past Christmas when I selected a Casio Exilim digital camera for its one-button video function and YouTube friendly formats over other possibly more feature-laden, but more complex offerings. Simplicity wins.
Next, Robert wrote on what he sees as the promise of rapid growth in 2009 for Tumblr.com ("Tumblr’s lead dev: Scoble doesn’t know what he’s talking about"), a Web 2.0 "micro-blogging" service (really I consider it "medium blogging") that thrives on a simple posting mechanism (via browser bookmarklet that simply works, and fast) for clipping and reblogging Web content, as well as reblogging the "Tumble blog posts" of other Tumblr users one follows – all with automatic attribution. Tumblr may well be the currently fastest way for a complete novice to get a simple blog up and running, and then actually post to it frequently because it can be fast, easy, and fun.
Notable competitor Posterous.com pursues a similar strategy by making simple email-based submission and intelligent/automatic media handling its main mechanism. I hope both services continue to push/copy each other’s innovations, add a few more useful features, and above all, keep things simple. Because if they do, they are very likely to win (Tumblr’s bookmarklet post submission already prompted the addition of a PressThis! feature in WordPress blogging software for example).
Last, Robert did a half-in-jest-fully-in-earnest piece on the comparison of the Twitter and FriendFeed services mentioned above ("10 Reasons why Twitter is for you and FriendFeed is not"). Despite having been one of Twitter’s heavy users with tens of thousands of followers, he had started to really kick things into high gear on FriendFeed since about Q2 of 2008, and may have almost single-handedly driven early adoption of this startup aggregator service conceived by a handful of ex-Googlers.
But while FriendFeed has just won the Crunchies for Best 2008 Startup, Robert makes the case that it has features sufficiently complex that they may prove a turn-off for non-techy users, and could prevent wide-spread mainstream adoption of the kind that Twitter is now experiencing (besides nightly mention and some crowd-sourcing uses by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the likes of Shaq, Lance Armstrong, Hodgman of the Daily Show and Mc vs. PC ads fame, and ex-Saturday Night Liver Jimmy Fallon have recently adopted Twitter to communicate with their fans).
Whether or not sophisticated users like Robert feel that FriendFeed’s advanced features are useful or not is besides the point: What counts is that Twitter’s single-minded focus on 140 character "micro-blog" updates makes it immediately accessible and understandable, whether or not a prospective user ultimately decides that they find the service useful or not (I had previously described how Twitter’s branding also aides in people rapidly "getting it"). This has also made Twitter somewhat of the "Swiss Army Knife of the Internet", prompting hundreds of third-party services, extensions, and uses based on its simple infrastructure in often ingenious ways.
So, three different examples of simplicity wins, all just from one blogger’s posts. I hope they have you convinced that simplicity indeed provides a competitive edge, and that with each additional layer of complexity (each additional step in the use of your product or service), you tend to lose say 50% of your residual audience, prospects, or users. You can do the math as well as I can: You want to keep the number of those additional steps to a miminum. Less really can be more after all.
So my prescription for you, your business, or your new product launches in 2009 obviously is: Keep it simple!