Stumbling across a recent review for BreezingForms Lite brought back a thought that I had for longer. Do mobile apps cause people to treat web apps the same way? 

We all know that we don't want to read docs for a mobile phone app. We just want to install and use it. Anything else that goes beyond will make us simply uninstalling the app. Every mobile app developer knows about it and develops apps accordingly: Limited set of features, just enough to get this one task done. Which is fine, we're not sitting at the desktop and don't need all those bells and whistles.

However, a recent review for BreezingForms Lite at the Joomla! Extensions Directory brought back this thought to me and what it means for Joomla! extension developers, especially for those whose extensions target people who need features, features and even more features.

The reviewer states

"I should not need to read documentation to create a simple form."

Despite the fact that you don't need specific docs with BreezingForms Lite to create simple forms, I would agree to that in principle and most people would do, too but I think the issue goes deeper here and is far reaching.

This part of the review reveals a change of thinking from the past years.

Not that long ago, people were even willing to dig deep into non-working scripts, fixing things here and there, patching broken code and so on. All of these actions required to read a lot of documentation and communication with the community or straight with the developer. There was actually a lot of communication in forums, emails, chats that now turned into a max. 140 character length tweet, at best. In fact those days were a lot more social than today, you simply got closer to people.

End of nostalgia: Of course things evolve and the days of endless fiddle are over but that leads us straight to the next demand:

"Having the ultimate web app that I can use in a finger snip and not putting almost no effort into it."

Sounds familiar? That's how we want it for mobile apps (and got it).

But is that even possible with web apps?

"The answer is clearly no. Even for trivial web apps. Why? Because of dependencies."

Even when one creates the simplest web app ever, let's say a simple contact form extension for Joomla!, it will still require the user to read some sort of documentation. If he is new to Joomla!, he will at least once face the need to consult the docs in average (how do I extend Joomla!). If he is an experienced Joomla! user, he might face the next doc to read when there is a new major Joomla! extension and the older extensions don't work no longer.

Now guess what it takes if you want to install, setup and run a fully blown shopping cart. Even if you're using a cloud solution like Shopify, you will find yourself getting lost in documentation, simply because with every feature added, more complexity is added that in return requires some sort of knowledge to be found in a documentation (funny enough, this complexity is added through feature requests as demanded by the users).

How to get out of that?

Well, we have just two options here:

  • Treating web apps the same like mobile apps.
  • Don't bother and embrace complexity.

Both solutions are fine but also have drawbacks:

1. If you are creating web apps just like mobile apps, you will be adding new features as requested by users until a certain extent. Namely until you see your web app being not so easy to use any longer. This will in return alienate your users who used it because of its simplicity in the first place.

2. Embracing the complexity's drawback is a bit like swimming against the trend: You will need to put an enormous amount of support, product care and commitment to your product in order to balance out simplicity vs. complexity. Best is to hide the complexity for basic tasks and reveal them as soon as they are required. This is for example done with our extensions BreezingForms and BreezingCommerce.

"My personal fav is embracing complexity as it gives to people what they demand: Features they need."

In return, your web apps win in value, a community and eco-system is growing around your products - there is simply more life into it.

What Else We Lost In The Fire?

Back to a bit more nostalgia - but for a good reason:

There was a time when open source projects and their licenses were the thriving idea behind those projects. This somehow got mixed up with the Free-To-Play attitude of the usual mobile app stores and caused "Lite" versions of Joomla! extensions to spread throughout the community with a similar attitude. In my opinion this should be reverted and we should get back to the original community thought.

Did you for example know that BreezingForms Lite is in fact no Lite? It is a fully blown free-as-in-beer form extension with enterprise features. 

It's called "Lite" simply because free extensions that have a commercial parent must be called like that in the Joomla! Extensions Directory (before 2013 BreezingForms Lite was simply called BreezingForms Free and used to be the previous version of the commercial one). The idea behind this was to have a language that everybody clearly understands, but that also implies an extension to be light (which BreezingForms isn't for sure).

Did you know that we (Crosstec) still give free professional support for our extensions and support them equally to their commercial counterparts? I rarely see that in the wild. There is more help between commercial theme developers at the Themeforest forums than there is free help directly from the developers of an extension.

Conclusion

We learned a lot from mobile apps to make our web apps better, that's for sure and we are all thankful for this. But we mustn't try to mimic them any further as they have two distinct audiences that shouldn't be mixed up with each other - to their own advantage.

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