Jason Fried has been talking a lot lately about keeping your product simple. His SXSW session on Saturday continued this theme of doing more with less — “constraints encourage creativity.” One example he cites is how Ta-da List’s lack of due dates or responsibility assignment forces people to find a human solution to the problem, often something as simple as appending a date to the to-do item. Later, if patterns emerge in how users are working around true limitations in the software, then that is the time to add an interface and make it a real feature.
Tantek makes a similar point when discussing XFN. Rather than create a complex format that attempted to solve several different problems (some of which may not even exist yet), they simply looked at one thing (blogrolls) and paid particular attention to how users were working around the limitations of a simple list of links. Adding “*” next to people a web site author had met is the same idea as adding a date in the text of a to-do item in the 37signals example. They could then extract the true semantics behind those existing practices into XFN and similar microformats, building on top of XHTML to embrace the way users currently publish for the web.