Users Program Their Own Functionality

Early morning coffee thought:

Perhaps the next big thing ought (dangerous word, that) to be customization of software.

I already wrote a bit about how our interfaces, the means by which we access our data, are tailored to an unreasonable expectation of "the common user", rather than our actual needs or uses of that software.

Think of this as the death of software humanism.

Consider: how much did you pay for the software (I know "app" is "in" now, but indulge my anachronism) that you use the most? $500? (fancy processing suite) $50? (video game) $5? (phone app) $0? (media player)

Your investment ranged from a lot, to nothing. Now: how much would you pay to fix "that one thing you can't stand" about the program? Or, to add that "one feature you really really want?" You might add another $50 to your $500 investment? Or you might pay $2 for something you downloaded free?

Somewhere, the sound of a cash register is waking up a capitalist.

Think about it. Most users probably uses 10% to 50% of the functionality of a given application. Why are they paying for the entire program? Why are the advanced users paying for the support of all the features for users who won't use them? What features are popular, and what features are useful? What new features would engender the need for further features? What features lead users into bad use habits, than then engender the need for new features they never needed to begin with?

The development of software is sadly, a simple timeline. Why is version just another succession? Why aren't there versions 10.4.2.A and 10.4.2.B? The use of the software is actually being limited by its development. Sure, there are support costs, but think how many different version of a software are in use simply because people don't update. M had iTunes 6 until I made her update recently. People are using old versions of software because they don't want to keep track of new releases, and therefore missing out on bug fixes that would improve their use. So there already are multiple versions out there, but the feature set ranges from "crappy" to "less crappy". M didn't update, because she didn't need all the advanced features, like Genius, etc. Okay. So give her the paired down version. If she was using software with only features she liked and wanted, maybe she would be more invested in bug fixes.

Right now, only a few really interested users keep track of new releases. The rest of people click "ok to update" by accident. But if people were given the option to define the sort of program they used, and to control what it could do, they would probably opt for simplicity they could understand. And beginning here, they could expand their use of the software. Once the basic level is mastered, they could experiment with new features.

Of course, the worry is that this will lead to a full menu of options that people don't understand, like the Windows 7 release prelude. What's the difference between Home Professional and Amateur Office Complete Suite? And what about a hundred different paywalls, blocking your ease of mastering the software as it asks you for $5 per new menu you'd like to explore?

The key is not just to nickel and dime software users, anymore than to treat them like an undifferentiated mass. Software use has aspects of a market in it. It is a machine that thrives on masses. iTunes would never have become one of the biggest media player options, if it wasn't free. Many phone apps wouldn't make money at all if the "lite" version wasn't reduced in price. There's a lot of software, like WinRAR, and other utilities, of which only a few people are willing to buy the full version, and the rest are fine to get along with the shareware version. The reason that it is apparently "impossible to sell media" on the web, is that the machinic-masses of the files and the users, combined with the technology, have made this the conditions in which the technology is used. mp3s have gravitated towards nearly free. Adobe Suite has gravitated towards $1,000,000. This is the way software is used, and the way it defines the cost.

Now, the idea is to take the fluid variables beyond the shifting of cost, supply, and demand. Everyone knows this machine is fluid, and always shifting, trying to find its balance. Why is the functionality of software not seen as a similar machine, an interface of people, technology, semiotics, and data, that would benefit from the flexibility of being treated like a dynamic machine?

And of course, it acts like a dynamic machine already. The concept of shareware made its own popularity. Firefox has a large number of add-ons, treating functionality as apps. The concept of an app itself, a program and interface good for one specific task, is a step in this direction. We need to let functionality define itself. We need to let the users program the signs of the interface.

Next up: literature. I will totally re-write the my short story to end the way you want it to. $5 upgrade.

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