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Are More Choices Really Better? 309

A. Bosch writes to mention that Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek software has a commentary that examines the need for choices in software. From the article: "This highlights a style of software design shared by Microsoft and the open source movement, in both cases driven by a desire for consensus and for 'Making Everybody Happy,' but it's based on the misconceived notion that lots of choices make people happy, which we really need to rethink." With software steadily becoming more sophisticated, are more choices really necessarily better?
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Are More Choices Really Better?

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  • To clarify... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @02:16PM (#16953992) Journal
    Since no one will bother to RTFA -- the "choices" he's criticizing aren't configuration choices (which is also a valid debate), but redundant (or basically redundant) ways of performing the same action via multiple routes.

    That said, the KDE and GNOME guys can return to ranting at each other...

  • Re:No (Score:4, Informative)

    by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @02:27PM (#16954264) Homepage
    Research [apa.org] has shown it to also hold true in sales.

    If you present users with too many choices, they're more likely to not buy anything. (one experiment was done by offering jams for sale, with either a limited number of choices, or a whole lot).

    The theory is that when people can't decide which is best, they'd prefer not to risk making a non-optimal choice, and so decide not to buy anything at all. (as opposed to software sales, which try to get people to not make the choice by buying the most expensive 'enterprise' version, so they don't have to decide which features they might need).
  • Re:To clarify... (Score:3, Informative)

    by arun_s ( 877518 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @02:35PM (#16954434) Homepage Journal
    Right. The example he gives is of a dozen different options to hibernate/logout/shut down a computer in Vista. The screenshot really does say it all.
    I'm thinking of other places where his reasoning holds true, but I'm coming up with blanks here. I mean, I can close a tab in firefox by middle-clicking it, pressing Ctrl+W, clicking on the small X, or with File->Close Tab. They're all redundant ways of doing something but it involves different input devices and shortcuts, and each is equally useful for different people. Information overload? Hmmm.. can't think of any other example where its such a waste as in TFA, really.
  • by acomj ( 20611 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @02:35PM (#16954436) Homepage
    This scientic American Mind (an off shoot of scientific American Magazine) had an article by the Barry Schwartz, the man who's book if referenced in the article.

    The Tyranny of Choice
    Logic suggests that having options allows people to select precisely what makes them happiest. But, as studies show, abundant choice often makes for misery

    http://www.sciammind.com/article.cfm?articleID=000 56941-1933-1196-906983414B7F0000&pageNumber=1 [sciammind.com]

  • You'd be surprised (Score:5, Informative)

    by killmenow ( 184444 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @02:35PM (#16954440)
    Actually, more choice isn't always better. Sheena S. Iyengar [columbia.edu] is a professor at Columbia University who studies choice and in particular, challenges the notion that more choice is always better. A list of her publications [columbia.edu] is available on her site. For those who believe more choice is always better, I recommend you read a few. In fact, I recommend you start here [columbia.edu] (pdf).
  • Re:Need Logoff. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bogtha ( 906264 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @02:44PM (#16954594)

    Read it again, he's not arguing against multiple accounts. He's saying that if you can log in as a new user when the screen is locked, then you don't need to have an explicit "log off" button, you can just lock the screen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @03:08PM (#16955128)

    Essentially, his example in the difference in choice was the breakfast isle in most shopping markets; in a Communist country you'll have one choice "Communist O's"

    Sadly, this demonstrates that your economics professor really ought to have been sacked for incompetence. The Soviet system he was ranting against was a "command economy" not a "communist economy".

    In economics terms, you could easily have a communist country with a large number of competing enterprises with a large number of competing products -- communism merely dictates how the surplus value (profits) is distributed amongst the workers, taxed and spent (distributed amongst society). Very disappointing your economics prof didn't know the difference.

  • Re:Ecconomics 101 (Score:2, Informative)

    by heroofhyr ( 777687 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @03:29PM (#16955500)
    I've had to take economics classes in three different countries, and I have heard the exact same lecture(s) in all three. Not because it's specifically true, but rather because economics is filled with people who like to pretend they're scientists like physicists or chemists and that what they're studying is filled with just as many natural, incontrovertible laws as those of physics or chemistry. Of course, it just so happens that whatever century one finds themself in, those incontrovertible laws just happen, by some convenient circumstance, to completely justify and support the current status quo. What did J.B. Say think was the best system? Surprise, contemporary France. What did Hegel think was? Surprise again, contemporary Prussia. What do modern economists think (here I mean in the mainstream, not monetarists, Austrian school followers, market socialists, Pareconomists, et al)? Little surprise, but the current system is fabulous according to them. There's always, granted, a few things wrong with it, but nothing so radical that it will threaten the economist's career. I'll make a prediction and say that 300 years from now I can guess what economists will believe the best of all possible worlds is. What, you ask? Whatever the current system they happen to have is plus a few platitudes offering ways it could be improved that would ingratiate them towards their employers and influential heads of state. If that's how science really works, modern scientists ought to be ashamed of themselves for disagreeing with whoever is in power or whoever pays their salary.

    And choice is fine when the choices are different. If one has to choose between 40 boxes of cereal that taste identical and fall within the same price range plus or minus a few pennies, the benefit of having a lot of options disappears. "Should I get the Brand A frosted wheat flakes, Brand B frosted wheat flakes, ... or Brand N frosted wheat flakes?" To be honest it doesn't matter, because it all tastes the same anyway. Look at the investigations into the Pepsi Challenges years back. When they were repeated by researchers with more reliable controls and truer blind tests, the result was that most people couldn't tell the difference between the two. The problem with the shitty quality of food and consumer goods in the USSR had nothing to do with choice. It was more down to the fact that the government simply didn't give a shit about consumer goods because the real money was in exporting weapons to foreign militaries, and the public had no input whatsoever in what was economically needed or how it was manufactured.

    That said, software isn't food and it's not very wise to compare it to food. If someone creates an operating system that's ten times more reliable than another, more widely used operating system--that ends up advancing society a notch or two. Or if someone comes up with a new algorithm that blows the most prevalent ones out of the water, that will have a very broad effect upon the whole world. Why? Because writing software is both a science and an art. Creating a new brand of hot dog with cheese squirted into the center is neither, regardless of the stated atomic weight of Bolonium or the aesthetic beauty of a jar of relish. Fostering new ideas and new ways of implementing those ideas should be encouraged. But having 20 different varieties of soap or cereal or frozen dinners doesn't really mean shit to anyone. Yeah, you'll bitch about how you no longer have that particular scent of Irish Spring you once loved, but nobody's going to freak out in the shower and commit suicide over it. It's pointless to pretend consumer choice for domestic commodities is in any way as important as having choices for productivity, research, writing a letter to your parents without the computer crashing halfway through, etc. Believing otherwise is to swallow all the garbage from economics professors who somehow justify to themselves that having 200 flavours of Doritos is a good thing, but decent public transportation or criticism of the success of Microsoft at the expense of the ability of others to innovate is the work of a Bolshevik Satan.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @03:38PM (#16955698)
    Google Video has nice lecture by Barry Schwartz
    The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less [google.com] really entertaining.

  • by nasch ( 598556 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @07:30PM (#16959070)
    Actually Eclipse is a wonderful example of too many choices. I've gone to the site several times to try it out for Java development. I've gotten overwhelmed with the sheer number of downloads and can't figure out which one is a Java IDE. So I just close the window and go back to codeguide.
    Doesn't seem that bad. Go to the main page, click the big yellow button, then the link that says Download now: Eclipse SDK 3.2.1. Pick a mirror, and that's it. Why the SDK download link comes after the distros link I don't know, but there are just two giant links on that page, so if the first one doesn't seem right it stands to reason to try the other one. Or maybe that's just me.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.