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The Swiss Army Knife Mistake

When I was kid I remember getting a swiss army knife when I joined the cub scouts.

I loved that thing. It had a knife, compass, screwdriver, saw and even a toothpick. It had a bunch of other things too.

Since then so many products have tried to copy the swiss army knife model of “all-in-one”. The idea is to pack so much into your product that it solves everything and for everyone.

I think the only product that has done well with the swiss army knife model is the iPhone. Other than that more does not mean better. But the iPhone handles the swiss army knife challenge elegantly because the UI doesn’t get jenky as you add more apps (unlike your all in one toaster, all in one dvd, all in one receiver, all in one printer etc).

Right now, I use so many different web services for a variety of different things. I use blippy, twitter, tumblr, last.fm, skype, gdgt, gmail, foursquare, plancast, and a bunch of other services too.

But I don’t want them all smashed together. They are valuable to me because they solve different problems and offer me different experiences.

In the early days of Tumblr, some users were using it as a life streaming service. Auto-import every RSS feed you own and stick it in your tumblr blog. I tried that too. But that wasn’t the idea of that simple RSS feature and most folks don’t do that anymore (or at least the people I follow). Instead users have settled into a place where they curate what they want in their tumblr dashboard and what they don’t. It’s packaged with care and not autofed.

Similarly, I don’t want my Twitter timeline filled with every single auto-post from every other service. They should stand apart and offered their own user experience. My gdgt and foursquare and blippy timelines couldn’t be more different and that is a beautiful thing.

And that is my beef with Google Buzz. It is trying to be the swiss army knife of my social media life. And I don’t want that – it’s unnatural to me and mixes things that I don’t want mixed. I think the part that is most unnatural about Buzz is that the autostreams everything. Dan Lyons puts it nicely:

Why, Google? Why take a perfectly wonderful e-mail system and pollute it by adding a zillion new things to it? I’m not looking for more clutter in my life. I’m looking for less. At the launch event some Google exec claimed Buzz is a way to “find the signal in the social networking noise,” but to me it looks like Google is just adding to the noise.

I want to choose what goes in.

Auto post, auto subscribe, auto import and auto follow aren’t helpful to me.

One more thing, the swiss army mistake doesn’t meant that web services shouldn’t support a two way API. Products should talk to each other and the best ones do just that. But that is different than the magical, all singing/all dancing-all-in-one-uber-product-on-steriods trap". It’s actually the opposite.