Tim O’Reilly recently posed an interesting question on Twitter. What does it say about software that so many people want to go back to the old version? Let me make a confession. I’m not a software aficionado by any means. I started this site back in 2001 because I thought it had a great chance to become a hit and there was nothing like it on the Internet at the time. It did become a hit. Within three months, a New York Times columnist reached out for a story, Kevin Rose offered to buy the site for $10,000 and suddenly I mattered a lot more in the Internet world. Life was good. Then I went to high school (I was still in middle school when the site first launched) and life sucked again.
Despite not being a software aficionado, running this site for the last decade has taught me a thing or two. For one, it’s easier to get a second date if you tell a woman “I run an Internet company” vs. “I run an Internet web site.” . Also:
1) Version updates for the sake of interface changes are RISKY.
Remember when AIM Triton was released and the entire interface of AIM was redone? Or how about the release of Winamp 3 and its disgustingly non-classical default interface? Office 2007? Windows 8? (I have not installed it yet). Tons of things can go wrong. New bugs, people unsure of how to complete basic tasks, etc.
Cyrus Farivar recently mentioned in an interview:
“An overriding principle would be that don’t let design get in the way of functionality. In other words, don’t just do design changes for the sake of doing them.”
Yet, publishers seem to do that all the time. Hell, even I’m guilty of this with this very site. It’s so tempting, especially when you have the job title and responsibility to continually innovate and change things up. I understand the drive to create something new, to switch things up, but if you’ve got something that works – don’t reinvent your own wheel, otherwise you may end up tripping over it and falling on your face.
2) Publishers who tweak their software without listening to user feedback can run themselves into the ground.
Newer versions are useful. There I said it. I never argued otherwise. After all, the slogan of the site is “newer is not always better,” not “older is always better.” New versions can fix bugs, add requested features, the UI can be more intuitive and so forth. Yet, software publishers who do not communicate with their customers and are too hard-pressed and proud to go back on a previous decision are not following a winning strategy.
TweetDeck AIR version (before Twitter’s acquisition) is a great example. Twitter, why won’t you listen to all the griping souls?
3) Developing for backward compatibility is challenging, so older versions are always necessary.
I started this site because the new version of Napster used 100% of my CPU power back in 2001. I couldn’t download any more Russian music on my 56K, what was I to do?
4) Additional ‘bloat,’ monetizing mechanisms can hurt your business.
I’m guilty of this. This site suffered a huge hit in January when Google demoted me for having all 3 ads above the fold (ironically, this is what their AdSense team recommended I do but I digress). I lost a lot of traffic. It’s tempting when it seems like such easy money. Avoid the temptation. It will only lead to unhappy customers seeking to downgrade (or switch to competitors).
If you run a software company (or any company, for that matter), my hat goes off (I’m not wearing a hat). It’s hard. How do you balance pressure for increased revenues with your customers needs? How do you make decisions that serve your customers and the board (hint: your board’s interests should be aligned with your customers)?
How do you deal with all the people whining about a new release that your team has spent years working on? How do you decide to scrape something that you’ve invested millions of dollars into developing?
I’m grateful I don’t have to make these decisions! All I can suggest is that you listen to your core users and send us some money (we will fix something for sure if you send us some money).
So surely the existence of this site must say something about people as well:
1) People are creatures of habit.
Peter Hershberg tweeted: “Among other things, it says that people hate change.” He later added that people update their software because they are “unaware of how much they hate change.” Jeffrey Mershon offered: “sometimes new version truly is worse, but we are creatures of habit, and resist change.”
I tend to agree with Jeff (although maybe I should agree with Peter because he has more Twitter followers). We resist change, but we don’t necessarily hate it. Some people are more open to it than others, sure, but if we hate change so much then there’s no way that Obama could have touted change as his whole campaign and won.
If we’ve worked with Excel for 15 years and Microsoft suddenly updates all the keyboard shortcuts we’ve used and changes the menus around, we may have some feelings about it.
2) People’s expectations are just as important as the software they are using.
People get upset, angry and frustrated when their expectations are not met. This applies as much to relationships as it does to software.
3) People like free stuff.
Some of the software downloaded on oldversion.com are the freeware versions of a certain release. Example: PowerArchiver. The most downloaded version is 6.1 because it was released under the Freeware license.
4) People value archives, legacy and history.
Old versions are cultural artifacts. Imagine you find a floppy disk stuck between the rusty pages of an old family heirloom. How do you find the software that is able to make sense of that data?
5) Nostalgia can be fun.
I like to install old software on my Windows 98 VirtualBox and watch the status indicator tell me how much hard drive space I have left as I’m installing. It brings me back. Heck, apparently some people argue that Windows 98 is a great solution for audio editing. (see comments)
So, Tim O’Reilly – thanks for inspiring this discussion!
Our dear users: please feel free to comment below: what do you think it says about software (and people) that so many people want to revert to the older version?