Every Generation Learns Again

When Linear was about 7 seconds old, all the cool kids flocked to it, including me. But I flocked with a smirk, because I’ve seen this story before. I remember when Medium.com was amazing because it was so simple. I remember when Blogger was amazing because it was so simple. I remember when Ulysses (and 100 other writing apps) were amazing because they were so simple. I also worked at Microsoft, so I know that simple does not automatically equal good.

I tell a joke a work that goes like this:

Q: How does great software become bloated?
A: One totally reasonable feature request at a time.

No one laughs. It’s not funny ha ha, it’s just a painful reminder that version one of anything is simple because it doesn’t do anything yet. But by the time you get to version 3, or if you’re somehow lucky enough to reach version 10, simplicity is gone. Not because people forgot how to design, but because at that point your software actually does something.

So when Linear was about 7 seconds old, we were working with a new client that had put a spunky, young, ambitious PM in charge of the project. She declared we’d be using Notion. Not Microsoft something something, not Google something something, but Notion. Which absolutely zero people in the room had ever heard of. I smirked and watched. Everyone went along with it because she was very confident in her decision.

Afterwards, I approached her with my smirk. I felt like we were two fans of an obscure band, and I wanted to do the special handshake with her. I wanted to say I saw her forward-looking approach, and appreciated it.

Me: Notion, eh? I love Notion.

Her: Yeah, isn’t it great?
Me: It is! It’ll be cool running this outside of Google or Microsoft software.

Her: Totally. I think it’s going to really help.

But then I went a little too far.

Me: Funny thing about bloat: one day we’ll be talking about how Notion used to be better and simpler. It happens to all software.

Her, confused: What?

Me: Oh sorry, never mind.

Well, that day is here. Notion is cool. It’s also bloated. Welcome to the game. Can I offer you my copy of Animal Farm?