Downgrade is the new upgradeI came across a really interesting thread while trying to find a feature that seemed to have been eliminated from one of the Yahoo Groups that I help to manage.  I feared that during a recent upgrade this feature was eliminated.  I had looked for the feature several times over the past few months, but just hadn’t sat down to really dive in.  All efforts were futile.  The feature seemed to be gone.  My fear was that the supposed upgrade was really a downgrade in disguise. Ultimately with the help of @YahooCare on Twitter, I was able to find the feature. But it was interesting that I had immediately assumed it was a downgrade. It was just that I had recently experienced so many that it was my first expectation.

For example, not long ago, I had experienced an issue with Yahoo Mail where a feature I used frequently (i.e. the tab feature that allows you to open multiple e-mails at once) was eliminated.(Granted, I did overuse that feature.)  It’s as if an upgrade to Yahoo meant erasing features.  In addition to being annoyed and realizing a decline in productivity since I had to develop “work-arounds”, I couldn’t understand why Yahoo would actually try to pass off the elimination of features as an upgrade.  I know how much large companies research big product changes. (Or is that now old style marketing?)

In all fairness, Yahoo did offer an option that returned tab functionality, but it was at the expense of other features that I used also. I was being forced to trade off between features that had previously come in one “package”.

Then, I came across this thread.   Suddenly it all began to make sense.  Was I experiencing the dumbing down of technology to meet the needs of the masses – what one commenter dubbed the “Idiot Elite” (which I in fact could be part of given my difficulty in navigating the new changes).  Others argued that in fact, ignoring users is the new mantra, but I had a hard time buying into that.  I kept thinking about Netflix’s faux pas (But they survived that didn’t they?)

Brown is the new blackYes, I realize that change isn’t easy, but in the past when most products and services changed, I may have had difficulty getting accustomed to the new features, but I rarely sensed an actual downgrade in functionality.  No more.  We have entered a new technological age where dumbing down takes precedence.

From a marketing perspective,  it can make sense if most of your users don’t appreciate or utilize many of the features.  But what if the power users are really the thought leaders?  What if taking away some of their capabilities leads to such a backlash that it impacts the masses?  I guess that’s where companies walk a fine line.  You really need to know your customer base.  That’s where good market research comes in.  After all, I’ve read numerous articles that downplay offering customers too many options.

What do you think?  Do you think features of many technology products or online services and websites are being taken away in favor of simplicity?  Or, in fact, do you believe that ignoring users is the new mantra?

I guess I had an easier time when brown was the new black, and no, I haven’t mistaken brown for orange.