We don’t need more unnecessary features

By Edridge D'Souza

Recently, I received the new update to Facebook Messenger, which added the ability to include 24-hour stories to a user’s profile. The feature, called “Messenger Day,” should seem familiar to social media users. In August 2016, Instagram, also owned by Facebook, launched Instagram Stories. This allowed users to post temporary photo and video stories to their profile, each lasting — you guessed it — one day.
Of course, before any of these companies were jumping on this bandwagon, Snapchat was doing it first. The company, which debuted on the stock market earlier this month, was the first popular application to center around the idea of 24-hour visual stories that would disappear after the allotted time. Snapchat’s entire model is based off of creating media that lasts only temporarily, so in this case, it’s fitting that it would produce such a feature.

But Instagram and Facebook? These companies have long held the opposite philosophy, making posts visible long after they were originally uploaded. For these companies to try to jump onto this bandwagon shows a transparent attempt to grab a share of Snapchat’s market niche without actually understanding the target audience. It’s a move from a company that works well as a social media networking site or photo site, to a company that does these functions and also tries to add on a clunky Snapchat-like function too.
This isn’t exclusive to just Facebook. Technology companies often try to add new products to gain entry into specific markets. Google released Google Plus as a reaction to the popularity of Facebook, Android as a reaction to the iPhone, Drive as a reaction to Dropbox and, of course, Chrome and Chrome OS as a reaction to the existing web browsers and computer operating systems.

Not all of these were commercially or critically successful. However, those that were often gained traction because they offered an entirely new service to fulfill a need. There was no need for Google to add individual features onto individual products when it could just create a new product dedicated to doing its own singular job. As a result, market forces allowed some of these ventures to flop and others to be wildly successful.
This is not the issue here. The issue is when existing products and platforms try to add new features that would be better off as standalone apps. Facebook and Instagram are guilty of the aforementioned. But virtually every major tech company involves some form of adding bloat. This bloat, or feature creep, manifests when developers simply lump new services on top of existing ones, creating a product that’s ultimately bulkier and less usable, and which often fails to properly implement its new features.

Take Windows, for instance. The core OS keeps getting updated, but progressive bloating in these updates tends to make the computers using them slower over time. Windows users often notice their computers getting slower over time, and this is largely due to the increased performance demands brought about by software updates piled on top of each other.
This holds true even for the original Facebook example. This app, which I previously only used because it reliably and quickly sent text-based messages, is trying its hardest to push an image sharing platform on its users — a feature which makes the app slower, more likely to crash and overall less useful.

We can expect that in the coming years, our apps will keep adding more secondary features. It costs nothing to Facebook. It gets to minimally cut into Snapchat’s market, and people will still use the Messenger app because it’s still the most convenient for sending messages. Facebook doesn’t gain much, but it does see benefits from creeping in features. The main loss is to the end user, who pays for it in wasted time and battery life.
I’m not advocating for a strict Unix-like philosophy that every app should perform one and only one task. Instead, I’m hoping that technology companies start to experience market repercussions for creating slower, less usable and more bloated apps due to feature creep. This might pressure them to release their features in a more modular form, using efficient, specialized apps rather than one big clunky one. In an era where a massive part of telecommunication is based on some form of web-based mobile technology, it would be nice if companies tried to prioritize the desires of their own actual user base.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]