Killing Your Darlings

The picture above is of our street during Santa Clara’s annual cleanup week where residents have the opportunity to chuck all their once good ideas.

Software, unlike a material product, has the ability to linger. It’s a strange phenomenon if you think about it. Software is a piece of intellectual property rather than an actual product. It’s more like content, where it can sit perpetually, even if there’s no one using it.

SaaS companies deal with this a lot. In the effort to innovate, you develop features or full-blown products that, at the time, seemed like a good idea, but when the lack of usage is evident, you run into some choices. For example, what do you do when you still have users using it, but you no longer wish to support it? What about the data? What about the analytics you might have tracked? What’s valuable to keep?

I worked with one software developer who was incredibly cavalier about scrapping ideas. Social networks, dating sites, auction systems: he not only made them no longer available, he wiped out all the source code. It was the equivalent of painting over a painted canvas.

Larger software companies usually have tons of these lost children. Google and Yahoo love killing projects as much as they do creating them. Mostly, it’s a form of housecleaning. You’re moving dev and support resources to other projects that, as suits like to say, are more fitting of your core competencies. Heck, Oracle killed most of Sun Micro’s projects when they acquired it, because where are the database and Oracle Financial licenses?

From a marketer’s perspective, it’s about positioning and apologizing. Ideally, there’s something better coming that you can taut and tease. But when there isn’t, you can only give assurances that users will have time to abandon ship.

Incidentally, one software category seems to have a longer shelf life, including being resurrected from the dead. Many classic game titles like Ultima are ported and available on for multiple platforms. Other long-since-gone games have their binaries floating out there which can be run on soft emulators. Gamers are more nostalgic it seems than business users.

It’s a shame that we aren’t more ceremonial about the death of enterprise/business software. Perhaps a funeral, acknowledgement of respect of the time and energy it took to put it together. Maybe have users eulogize about them.

Rick Rubin, the pioneering rap producer, held a funeral to retire the word “Def” from the hip-hop lexicon. Even the Reverend Al Sharpton came to officiate the ceremony.

After all, it’s not always about admitting failure, as much as it was an idea that ran its course. Why not pay tribute in even a small way?

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