Features are for the birds. At the end of the day, we all just need to get things done in the most efficient way possible.
The best “features” are the ones we don’t even realize exist – the ones we take for granted because they are always there.
For example, have you ever thought about how reliable Gmail is? I mean, sure, it’s had some downtime throughout the years, but compared to all of the hours and minutes the service is active and immediately responsive – we take this constant connection for granted.
No matter where we are in the world, we can instantly send and receive email (provided you have a mobile device) in a number of ways most efficient for you (web interface, IMAP, etc).
Gmail is always there, and it (almost) always works.
Reliability, in this case, is a feature.
Another example is Twitter. I consider Twitter to be more of a communication platform than a “website providing a cool service.” It’s a “mass-sharing texting system.” The only feature of Twitter that matters is that it’s up and running. After that, it’s just text being sent to the service via a number of protocols, such as web, SMS, IM, etc.
Twitter has made sharing text simple by allowing you to use whatever input source you prefer. You’re not forced to load the web interface over your mobile device just to interact with the service. You can, instead, use SMS, IM, etc. As the service improves, I imagine it will allow input from as many sources as possible.
In a sense, Twitter provides the connectivity, and you provide what it means to use the service. It’s entirely up to you what you can do with Twitter. It’s completely open-ended, and simple (just share some text). It’s what you make of it.
Simplicity, in this case, is a feature.
A unique service is that which allows users to do the things they do, better. This is a broad statement, but it involves our own personal goals in life – how we grow as an individual, reach new heights, and constantly learn about the world around us.
A website or software application may just be a bunch of data and pixels, but it’s inherent meaning to us is much more. There’s a value behind what we do with software. We don’t just update Twitter because it’s there. We do it to connect with others, meet new people, open up new opportunities, and possibly even learn something. The scope of that is far greater than servers and “uptime.”
For example, as a writer I had become accustomed to blog-length posts for many years. It wasn’t until Twitter arrived on stage that I though about how effective short updates can be. There’s a certain skill or craft involved in making your point clear in such a short statement.
This limitation requires more creativity, thereby challenging us to think differently.
For each service you join, ask yourself, “What is this making me do better? More efficiently? Will this challenge my core beliefs, push me to try new things, and help me grow?” If not, then the service is probably just a “fresh face on an old game.”
It’s easy to create new services that look pretty, act differently, or contain a bunch of catchy features, but the real challenge is creating something of value – something that reaches deep into a person’s psyche, and persuades them that “this can truly make you better.”
Uniqueness, in this case, is a feature.
The most successful services are the ones that combine all three of the above “features” into something that changes society, and the world.