Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sure, It Does More Stuff, But Can You Understand It?

Just because your technologies can "do more stuff," doesn't mean you the consumer understand it.

One of the questions I face as a product reviewer is whether "doing more stuff" makes one product better than others in the same class that do less.

The ability to "do more" or "have more features," however, does not necessarily indicate a better product. The term "feature creep" alone is a tip-off that too many features can easily become "useless features." Too many features creates a too-busy design or confusing interface.

But the problem goes deeper than that.

In the case of technology products and software, the user should be able understand at all times what value they are deriving from the product, and it's the product's job to present that information. Products (and especially software, which is my area of focus as a technology writer) are responsible for giving their users feedback. If the user cannot  understand that feedback or see how and why it's relevant, than the product is failing to some degree.

The most clear example that I've seen lately is fitness gadgets, like the Fitbit line of products, Nike+ FuelBand line, Jawbone UP, and so forth. They're all modern-day pedometers. They count how many steps you take in a day, and most of them measure a bunch of other metrics, too. But can you make sense of the data they are measuring? And more importantly, are the data they are measuring relevant to you?

With fitness trackers, I personally get a lot of value out of those that have a complete ecosystem that includes a calorie-counting component and weight-tracking component. And I want my account to show me trends that relate my fitness level (i.e., how many steps I took in a day) with those other things: how much I ate and what I weighed. I want to see week-by-week analysis of those data points, not just day-to-day summaries of each one on a separate page. I want to see the relationship between all that information, not just the information itself.

A few fitness technology companies are getting pretty good at making data relevant and understandable to users (I'll point to Basis for that), but a lot of them are poor at it (ehem, Nike). It's an area that can't be overlooked though if the companies that make these devices want to stick around for the long term. As soon as consumers wise up to the fact that they can't really make sense of their data in a way that leads to actions and new habits, they'll recognize there's no sense in tracking the data in the first place.

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