At The Economist Ideas Economy event Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, in an excellent talk about open source software, proclaimed the end of the killer feature. He asked the packed audience of high profile influentials how many people use Firefox, and how many of them have a plugin installed – and a good percentage of them raised their hands.
He has a point. For many kinds of products, it’s the end of the killer feature. Not everywhere, not for all kinds of products. But the trend is definitely the other way. And the trend has been happening for some time.
There was a day and time when software product launches hinged on features (or killer applications) and how the new features compared to the old features competitors had. The browser wars were perhaps a peak of this kind of guns blazing feature rich marketing warfare between two competitors. Back then it was expensive to launch products and press millions of CDs, and ship them in boxes. It took time and money and you needed expensive waves of promotion to propel each release forward.
But today, with websites, iPhone apps, and web browser plugins. new feature additions are cheap(er) and can roll in at any time: the feature set matters, but it matters less. What matters more are the overall user experience and the quality and depth of the plugins/apps available for people to use.
Curiously enough, Apple’s app store is leading the way in 2010, which is an inversion of what happened in the 90s with Microsoft and Apple. The success of Windows 95, in part, was based on the huge platform of applications it had compared to the Macintosh. It didn’t matter than the Macintosh had a better experience, the availability of apps drove the decisions for many people. With the iPhone, perhaps for the first time I can remember, a product has both superior design and a superior 3rd party platform.
But the new plague we have is the annoyance of syncing upgrades and compatibility. To stay secure, we’re compelled to keep everything up to date. But my Firefox install has a half-dozen plugins, and every time Firefox itself updates, it causes a wave of incompatibility across those plugins. I’ve had the same problem with WordPress too. I never know now when I upgrade one thing, how it will impact the others, and the more plugins and apps I have, the more of a problem this becomes. It has happened before that a plugin, or app, is abandoned: , it can’t make the upgrade with me, and suddenly I’m surprised to be without something I’d grown to depend on. I’m dependent on a wider and wider set of people to get the features and things I want, which has its advantages, but its disadvantages too.