Software Doesn't Matter

Apr 19 2008

It might sound surprising coming from the product manager of a couple software projects, but I've come to the conclusion that software per-se doesn't matter at all. Let me explain why.

No piece of software, however good it is, will ever give anyone a reason to do something. That is, the best Word Processor in the world won't give you an insightful topic to write about. The most effective spreadsheet tool won't create meaningful data out of nothing. The greatest collaboration tool won't give your people a reason to work together they do not already have.

I feel like that this concept is really important to grasp. If software can't give you a reason to work, it entails that great software is software that does not provide you with reasons not to do something. Great software is software that does not get in your way once you've decided to get yourself started.

I'm not saying that software doesn't have an impact. This would be foolish and even worse: a poor observation. Software can make you more efficient, faster and overall happier. All I'm stating is that once you've decided to go for information gathering over the internet, you'll do so with whatever tool you'll find - be it a Twitter client, a RSS reader or a plain' old web browser. Aegyptians would have built the pyramids faster had they had access to the right piece of software, but software itself wouldn't have given them a reason to build the pyramids in the first place.

This makes the task of building great software both humbling and interesting. The best we can do is to help people build things together once they've decided to get themselves started. We don't know why you want to build this bridge, but once you'll have set out to do so we will help you build it faster, freeing you of many a communication issue.

Software doesn't matter insofar that it will never provide ends - only means. To me, this is what makes the job of a product manager really interesting. I do not have to try making people work together even if they don't want to. Instead, I'm in charge of removing anything that might hinder their progression when they decide to do so. This is the belief that's been at the core of XWiki Workspaces since its development got started months ago. 

We started from the following observations : 

  • People work together in teams
  • They're looking for tools they can understand how to use in minutes
  • Most users simply don't care about the fancy features their IT teams brag about

XWiki Workspaces delivers on all those criteria :

  • It takes less than 60 seconds to create a new space, change its color and edit its homepage
  • All the major features (add a wiki page, write a blog post, upload a file...) are only one click away at any time
  • Space applications (blog, wiki, images, files) are stripped of everything but what really matters to real-life users

Here's what the end result looks like :

We've been working hard to build a software that does not get in the way of its users. I'm aware our product won't top the feature list charts and, honestly, I don't mind. What matters to me is whether, when the new marketing intern on the block will look at XWiki Workspaces, she's able to find out how to use it and make the most of it. Hopefully, at that point her company will already have given her a reason to do so.