Why is simple so difficult?


Conventional wisdom says it shouldn’t have made it. It clearly arrived late. I was using a chief competitor when it was still on the drawing board. So how did Google.com become so popular, so fast, long after most major search engines were well established?

The answer, or answers, is simple. Reason number one – take a look at the home page at Yahoo! According to my scientific study, (cutting and pasting with Microsoft Word), it contains 688 words. Google contains a grand total of 53 words. Curiously, AltaVista, which I used to use constantly until it bulked up into a massive portal as per the fashion of the day, is now down to 61, and something about it looks awfully familiar. The bottom line is Google’s page is simple and merely sets the stage for visitors to do what they want, which is look for information.

The second reason – it works better than any other free Web search engine I’ve used. Because of that, I use it all the time and have even taken the extreme step, for me, of incorporating it as a toolbar on my browser. And apparently I’m not alone – a service called qSearch earlier this year reported that, worldwide, Google is the most-used search engine with 33 per cent of all English-language queries, followed closely by Yahoo. (In the U.S. alone, however, Yahoo still leads).

The third reason? Despite that success, I’ve never had to watch Google’s home page become jam-packed with services I never wanted nor needed.

I mention all this not to swipe at Yahoo, MSN or any other search engine. Fact is, I would likely be as successful at finding what I need if I used them regularly. But I don’t, because Google, besides its impressive ability, is a simple, elegant search engine, nothing more and nothing less. If only that philosophy was exercised more in this industry.

At last year’s SAP user conference in Orlando, Fla., then SAP chief Hasso Plattner apologized to his customers for the bloated nature of the company’s flagship ERP software. He invited them to send along features they never used, which SAP said it would compile and perhaps expel completely. The users I spoke to applauded the decision, and said integration could be made easier with simpler software.

Documentation, support and maintenance on enterprise software accounts is not only big business, nowadays, it’s keeping some of the industry’s largest software vendors alive and kicking.

And it’s not just the big iron software. Take Microsoft Word. It is a fine product that may have single-handedly helped the company win the OS race. But I’ll venture that few of us need more than 15 per cent of its functionality. My co-workers and I write for a living, and we certainly don’t.

In short, simplicity is a rare commodity in today’s software industry. I suspect a good deal of the push behind open source and related apps such as StarOffice reflect a desire to get rid of bloatware as much as a desire to cut costs. It also explains why so many IT departments are reluctant to upgrade. It’s hard to justify it when what they’re currently using works just fine, and particularly hard when the new version comes with features few were looking for.

You are paid to make things work, and so you look for software that works. If more vendors took the Google approach, they, and you, would find life a lot simpler.