Design Principles for Enterprise Bookmarking: Simplicity and Affordability

It is difficult to imagine a team of, say, 5 people or more who work primarily with information that would not need to share their bookmarks, bibliographies or some other kind of content references. – This is the business case for the enterprise bookmarking. But what should these people expect from the applications that provide such useful functionality? – There are two basic requirements: simplicity and affordability.

Simplicity

The web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, views simplicity as one of the human rights (Usability: Empiricism or Ideology?). He also points out that this is not merely an ideological point of view: the users simply won’t struggle with the design complexity, and instead they will seek simpler alternatives that do not waste their time.
But simplicity is not a design principle that is easy to follow. In a highly competitive market there is always an urge to provide more features, more options, a richer user experience… Every product wants to outperform its competition by offering more of everything, and this obviously runs counter to the principle of simplicity.
It takes courage to declare that “less is more”, and to seriously follow it as a design principle. 37signals did exactly that with BaseCamp (Getting Real). – And they did it with a great success. They looked into their competition and found out that relatively simple project management activities, such as a to-do list, were enriched with so many nice-to-have features that they became excessively complicated. This is where they decided to break with this trend of outdoing the competition. “Our products do less than the competition – intentionally. We build products that work smarter, feel better, allow you to do things your way, and are easier to use.” (Ibid.)
Just like the project management activities, the basically simple and intuitive bookmarking can be also easily transformed into elaborate, intricate operation. You don’t believe it? – Here is one example: introduce configurable tagging metadata!
Here is how this works. You decide that since everybody uses tags, you need to come up with something else, something more – you need an innovation. So, you decide that your tags are not going to be simple keywords as elsewhere, but rather a data array consisting of multiple attributes (fields) and their corresponding values. Moreover, you even provide a facility for users to define the fields in this array, set restrictions on data types and data formats, etc. – As the result, that simple one-click bookmarking that everybody uses in their browsers now becomes a struggle with protracted multi-field forms.
These configurable annotation metadata may certainly appeal to about 1% of the potential enterprise bookmarking clients. Out of that tiny group maybe even 10% would be even willing to actually continuously and consistently bookmark their content using such complicated methodology. But this would also leave the rest of the users – who are the vast (99.9%) majority – stuck with an absolutely unnecessary complexity in usability and configuration.
This kind of “innovations” is certainly better left for customization projects paid by specific customers, and tailored to their specific requirements. Bookmarking is simple, and this is how it should stay for the vast majority of users. Here – less is certainly more.
Enterprise bookmarking users must demand a simple application that does not oblige them to change their current bookmarking habits – or any other work habits. The standards generally adopted on the web should be adopted and maintained, and the application should build its usability on the user’s familiarity with such standards. The innovations are good – but not for the sake of outdoing others. Innovations should further simplify the use of an application, and not do the opposite: innovations should not make an application more complicated and more difficult to use.

Affordability

Do you know what is the real cost of your software?
When you ask for the price of a software product, you typically hear the purchase price only, the price of the license. But this is never the whole cost.
Start with the infrastructure: how much additional software and hardware will you need to run your enterprise bookmarking application? Is this included into the price of the software, or is it that bill on you? Just imagine an enterprise bookmarking solution that requires an expensive database license!
And how about installation, configuration, deployment, intranet integration, integration with other applications – are these included into the price, or you will need to provide that too? – This is usually the honey trap of the free software: what starts as free soon turns out into a full-fledged “do-it-yourself” R&D project. Just like the IKEA furniture: some critical parts will always be missing, the holes are in the wrong place, and you will put it together wrong. – Twice. Eventually, to get somewhere, you will have to seek professional assistance and open the wallet.
Next, add training and implementation, support and maintenance, security and updates… Corporate software is usually like the notorious stone (or nail) soup: it starts with a pebble in a pot full of water on the fire. But then, to make it right you need a carrot, a potato, some oil, salt, few spices… Eventually, you end up paying for the whole soup.
Enterprise bookmarking users must demand an affordable application. The real, total price of your enterprise bookmarking solution – the whole bowl of soup – must be affordable. – Very affordable.

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