The Continuation of Failre

My thoughts about Skitch and Google Reader has me thinking about other failed software experiences. Another very recent one was the failure of Wunderlist for me in that their 2.0 update broke exactly the two specific things I liked about Wunderlist: right hand list of task lists and the background I liked. It’s crazy how such simple things can break something to one person. All of this might mark me as someone who is simply a luddite or who fights change, but the opposite is true. I embrace new technologies to see what they have to offer. I also actively set out to embrace change because as the parent of a four year old I have little choice but to do exactly that. Four year old = constant change 24/7. Yet, change that seems to serve no purpose is what puzzles me. Removing a simply customization, such as right-hand navigation or a background, seems to be a random choice by the developer. That said, I am not in those meetings where decisions are made. I can only imagine that it has to do with “simplification” on one level or another. Removing customization removes complexity. But removing customization also adds risk if you have clients already accustomed to the customization. I am the risk. The interesting thing is that the replacement product I switched to, Producteev, doesn’t provide the functionality either. But here’s the important part: they never had it to start with, therefore I don’t miss it. Whereas the beauty of Wunderlist was how perfect it was for me because of the right-hand navigation. It kept itself above Producteev only because of that one customization. Remove the customization, remove the reason for me to use Wunderlist. Removing the background I liked was a bit more superfluous, but it certainly added to the irritation.

Is it a failure, though? For me it is. I am sure for Wunderlist that they are looking into their future for the product and trying to integrate it into some sort of future conceptual framework. Simplification makes modularity for the future easier to cope with and incorporate. But is it worth it? I have no idea. I don’t known Wunderlist’s plans for the future and how important simplifying their product is to them. I know that for me it breaks the aesthetic of the product and causes an unintentional emotional response toward the product. Unfortunately, the response is “Sigh. I used to like this when I was able to have a right-hand nav bar.” In other words, looking at it makes me sad and then irritated (I hardly think I can get angry about it as it’s just a task list). Others, however, seem to have taken Wunderlist to serious tasks on the App store reviews. Reviews for the recent version sit squarely in the negative range. Overall reviews still keep it in the positive range, but if you narrow it down to current version reviews you find mostly one and two star reviews with the most frequent complaint being one of the worst possible responses you can think of: “It doesn’t even launch anymore.” Ow. I was complaining about the nav bar and background, but losing functionality entirely is a default deal-breaker.

So, how does a company like Wunderlist deal with failure? To their credit, that have a web site where you can submit questions, and they try to answer them. That said, at this point there are 124 pages of Q&A about Wunderlist 2, a great deal of them about logging in, which is another deal-breaker.  Wunderlist, from what I can find, has yet to publicly address the issues outside of the Q&A. At this point they may just be generating ideas inside the company and tracking the trajectory of what’s happening.  Watching failure from the outside as a customer is a weird experience. It’s certainly easier to get an idea of a company’s reaction when the company is high-profile like Apple (Map app failure) or Microsoft (Vista failure). Those companies have dealt with failure before (Apple – MobileMe / Microsoft – Windows Me) and have lessons learned. But small companies failures seem to be harsher since so much risk is involved. The company’s whole reputation may ride on the acceptance of an upgrade, which is a big gamble when there’s already a well-liked product in place. But idleness and immobility as just as dangerous. You get passed or trounced without taking the risk to move forward. I guess in the end, like all great risks, you’re asking yourself just how big a loss you can take on the risk and still get a long-term positive return back.

Leave a Reply