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Are adding gimmicks to a website ever a good idea? What I mean by gimmick is adding "cool" features that solve no real problem.

We are currently considering adding a "Magazine style" product viewing application to the site. You know like a flash based app that shows magazine pages that you can click and flip the pages with your mouse. I personally think this is terrible idea.

We already have a category page where you click on a category and it lists products. So this catalog view is not solving any problems that are not already solved. They want to use it because of its "cool" factor. I personally don't think its cool, I think its cumbersome, but thats besides the point.

I am all for adding complex features, but only when those complex features are solving real problems. I think this worst part of all is there are now 2 paths for the user to take, a category route and a magazine route. I think the shopping route should be linear and I believe too many options like this is distracting and confusing.

InDesign has a plugin that can make something like this very easily. So not much time will be wasted on it, but I still think it is a very bad idea. Am I right, or being too opinionated?

Can anyone give me any good arguments for either side?

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Yes, I hate those. Also, flash kills SEO. –  Job Apr 21 '11 at 16:17
    
as Job said, SEO is a good one, tell them they'll get less traffic. –  RYFN Apr 21 '11 at 16:22
    
Voting to close. The question answers itself, as no one could really say that gimmicks are a good idea. May be salvageable with significant edit. –  Eric Wilson Apr 21 '11 at 16:40
    
@FarmBoy Why can no one say that gimmicks are a good idea? They certainly are good in the cellphone and toothbrush industry. –  JD Isaacks Apr 21 '11 at 16:53
    
Gimmick has an extremely negative connotation. But who knows, maybe a gimmick defender will arrive on the seen with a well-thought-out pro-gimmick answer. If so, then I'm wrong, and that's why five close votes are required. –  Eric Wilson Apr 21 '11 at 17:36
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5 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It depends.

A little gimmickry can make things more appealing. Look at any fun game: there are often a ton of little gimmicks. And a little more appeal can make the difference between success and failure.

But there are three problems with the situation you describe:

  1. It sounds like there's no evidence that this gimmick works for users. If it doesn't make shopping more fun and effective for them, then it's not even a gimmick; it's just bullshit.
  2. Your company is making a large bet based on thin evidence. For something of unknown value, it's best to keep the costs and user impact low. I'd try this in a very small way before going big.
  3. The gimmick may be for bosses, not the audience. A useful gimmick has to be cool for your actual users, but a lot of gimmicks are only cool to internal people. That's not who the site is for!

I'd hack together a quick version of this, and bring 5-10 people in for some guerrilla user testing. If that got users excited, I'd do a special small version. A focus on particular products, a sale, whatever. I'd A/B test that with a regular approach to the same stuff. If that worked, then I'd find some long-term test to let us see if it's a short-term gimmick or something with long-term utility.

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First, let's unpack 'adding "cool" features that solve no real problem'.

What is a "real" problem? I would define a real problem as one that, when solved, provides value to your customers or clients (or other stakeholders), i.e. "business value". By that definition, a "cool" feature can solve a "real" problem, although they often don't. Also, consider the opportunity cost of working on a "cool" feature that provides minimal business value versus a "less cool" feature that provides greater business value.

This question really boils down to the most commonly asked (and answered) problem in software engineering: "how do I most effectively deliver business value?" For me, Agile principles work the best, but there may be multiple valid answers. However, one attribute they share is that they are evidence-based and require the use of critical thinking.

I suggest you approach the problem not as "should I ship useless but cool features" but rather as "how do I maximize business value using evidence and critical thinking".

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Then again, I like to define "cool feature" to mean "one that maximizes business value for effort", so I always try to ship "cool' features and they always solve "real" problems. –  Rein Henrichs Apr 21 '11 at 18:07
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I agree with you. This is called Gold Plating and it's not good idea. Spend the time developing new requirements instead. I also agree with @Job about Flash.

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These are they types of features that look good during a demo, but after someone uses the site a few times, the glimmer is gone. Experienced users would rather have a short-cut key and no delay.

Everything can't be functional. The decision should be based on user feed-back. You never know.

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Depending on what your site does, this is not a bad idea. Personally I would far rather shop for clothes or some such on line using the magazine style "gimmick" that makes it behave like a paper catalog. I suspect many people would - especially people in my age group who did not grow up with the Internet. So depending on what you are selling it may be appropriate, not a gimmick at all.

Further, it isn't your call. If that is what management wants, it's their call. Just suck it up and do it and stop whining.

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Good points in first paragraph. Also I know it isn't my call, but if I can prevent a mistake (if it even is a mistake) I would like to. I am the sole developer so if the website is a success/failure it reflects on me whether or not the decisions made were mine. –  JD Isaacks Apr 21 '11 at 19:26
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