The programmers who write code for really good pieces of software, or apps, or websites, must constantly improve their products once they become popular. That includes updates to work out bugs, or for security reasons, or in response to feedback from the public. Unfortunately, all too often, those programmers think their product needs a completely new look, so they overhaul it and, in so doing, ruin it.
The latest example is bit.ly, a website I’ve used to shorten the URL of pages I link to or tweet about. Unlike other URL-shortening sites (like tinyurl or goo.gl or is.gd), bit.ly allowed users to add other text and then send it as a tweet. I used it as a one-stop for almost everything I posted to Twitter.
Now, the geniuses at bit.ly have changed it so much that, while the service is still free, it’s no longer simple. They don’t provide click-through data on their front page. They’ve decided that bookmarks should now be called “bitmarks.” They’ve taken away the box where you could enter the text of your tweet. All in all, they’ve taken a beautiful, clean service, and turned it into something that doesn’t offer the best features of its previous version.
So, I’ve switched to HootSuite, a site/app that has its own built-in URL shortener and allows users to not only add text to links, but also to schedule tweets to post at a later time. Twitter and Facebook (you can post status updates from Hootsuite, too) don’t have that feature built into their sites, nor did bit.ly. I find it useful when I write a new column or post a new podcast in the middle of the night but want to promote it to the daytime audience as well. Hootsuite offers other features, including click-through analytics, and the ability to monitor all of your social media feeds in one place, in a nice simple format.
For now. Until the software engineers decide it works too well and must be ruined.
There’s also been a change to Blogger, the Google software I use to write and post everything on Harris Online, and it, too, is for the worse. In an attempt to streamline it, they have made Blogger more unwieldy and difficult to use, and removed features like embedding Amazon Associates codes. Plus, it adds line breaks where I don’t want them and ignores many I do want.
I’m not resistant to change. If I like your product and you make it better, I’m with you. Yet I wonder if the software engineers who come up with these “improvements” actually use their own products as we do. If they did, they’d know that what they’ve done hasn’t helped. It may be a matter of self-preservation — to justify their jobs, they must constantly develop new ideas and show their bosses how they’ve made things better. While these overhauls may achieve those career goals, they hurt the user experience.
Google keeps warning that all users will soon have to use the updated Blogger interface instead of the classic version. That’s a mistake right out of the consumer product history book — or maybe everyone at Google (and bit.ly) is too young to remember New Coke.