I just had a thought that's so obvious, in retrospect, I can't believe it
took me three years to think of it.
I don't have time to properly defend the premise right now, but I'd like
people to attack it anyway, so when I do write about it later, I can do a
better job. This should really go on a blog but I'm midway through setting
up a new blog server, so, oops, bad timing. It'll end up there, though.
Basically: 37Signals apps, and therefore Rails, are heavily opinionated in
the YAGNI direction. Not just "simple is better", with an Apple design
aesthetic, but "As little infrastructure as possible to get the job done".
They pride themselves on how few features they have, because they've got
the minimal set of features that make, say, to-do lists *possible*, instead
of a complex set of features that make to-do lists maximally flexible.
I just realized I've seen this movie before, and it was called AOL.
We used different words, but they meant a lot of the same things. We
weren't talking about "YAGNI", but we were talking about "basic users" vs
"power users". We didn't target power users. In fact, if you ever made
the mistake of pitching an idea with the word "powerful", it would be shot
down instinctively with "We don't target power users".
We didn't do feature creep, because we could see that most users don't use
most features. We didn't do options, because we could see that 96% of
options remain set at their default values. Etc. Not only ain't you gonna
need it, but we have metrics that prove that you ain't gonna use it.
So if it needed user configuration or more than a few clicks to be useful,
we just didn't implement it.
The problem is this: Everybody becomes a power user, for some value of
"power". Everyone outgrows super-simple - and if they don't, their kids
do, because they start at a higher baseline.
Fifteen years ago, a "power user" was someone who knew enough about
computers to hook up a modem, open the network config window and get
connected to an ISP, then configure their Internet mail server. Now we
call that a "person". Sometimes they pay for "installation". Sometimes
they ask their teenager. They never use AOL for it.
"So easy to use, no wonder it's #1!" A meaningless non-sequitur and a
It tanked once better alternatives came along.
Just something to think about. There are many holes in this, and I can
already think of a few, but I'd love to hear from the peanut gallery.