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Tuesday 16 December 2008

Products are not just a collection of Features

Software products are not just created but also thought out and conceptualized as a collection of features. While this works for extending features on an existing large product, for the conceptualization of a new product, this is possibly the best way to lose your way.

The value of the whole is not always a sum total of its parts.

Let me use a familiar analogy. A house, for example, is not just a collection of rooms, or of its accessories. Each room by itself doesn't have the "value" to its occupants as the whole house has. This is because, beyond the collection of rooms, the house is also built around the social interaction of its occupants. The same collection of rooms, organized in 2 different ways based on 2 different social interactions, will provide a wholly different kind of "value" to their occupants. Similar is the case in software products.

I am a big advocate of the need to think and conceptualize a software product in terms of its social interactions. After all its the social interactions in a product that users of the product experience, and the features are only a means to achieve them. Many of the current range of Web 2.0 applications are actually based on a single social interaction. Many products, in fact, started from a single social interaction, but have since found expression in a wider range of social interactions as well.

Twitter for example, is a simple application that started off with a simple social interaction - "implicit asynchronous messaging" - you could "publish" your status to the stream and let people downstream know about it, without having to explicitly message people. This might have seemed initially to most people (including myself) as not such great stuff, but a little thought will tell you that this is akin to "micro-publishing". The possibilities of extending this social interaction to evolve into a whole genre of social interactions, as people "get it" is endless. Thinking of Twitter as only a feature couldn't have opened up these possibilities, as thinking of Twitter as a publishing-consuming social interaction does.

Of the current crop of Web 2.0 products, those that will survive and grow into the next big thing, will have successfully mapped the next generation of social interactions.

Each such social interaction may involve a single or a multiple set of features. Again, each such interaction may involve some of the features partially. So, those coming from the old world of product management might want to create a matrix/map that co-relates social interactions to features and this might be helpful for them in product development. However, the progress in product development still needs to be measured in terms of how much of the conceptualized social interaction has been achieved and what possibilities lie ahead.

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