Opinionated vs. Un-opinionated products
Uncover the balance between opinion and practicality in product creation. Explore the impact of opinions on creating a passionate community, and how integrations and automation shape products. Learn how small SaaS companies compete with behemoths by finding their unique opinion.
Every product is a manifestation of its creators' perspectives and beliefs. It's a reflection of the way they see the world and their values. Yet, what makes a product truly unique is the balance between the maker's opinions and the practical aspects of the product. Striking that balance is where the magic happens.
A product that is too heavily influenced by the maker's opinions may be limited in its appeal, while one that disregards their input risks losing its soul. Finding the sweet spot is key to creating a product that resonates with its intended audience while staying true to its creators' vision.
Roughly speaking, we can divide products into two wide opinion buckets:
Opinionated: strong opinions about the "how of the problem" that the product is trying to solve. Those opinions are deeply ingrained into the product, and easy to spot.
Un-opinionated: neutral tools, that let's you do things as you want
- HEY - Opinionated
- Outlook - Un-opinionated
- Gmail - a little opinionated
Opinionated products divides people, and the people who takes their side has a strong desire to show their support. Those people will often defend problems, even go as far as lying about it, to maintain their perfect view of the product.
Products that are designed to be neutral and un-opinionated often have broad appeal, but can lack a certain spark that ignites passion in their users. While these products may appeal to a wider audience, they often don't inspire the same level of loyalty or engagement as products that have a stronger point of view.
In fact, customers who don't feel particularly attached to a product are often quick to point out its flaws and will switch to a competitor if they find a better deal elsewhere. This makes it crucial for companies to find a way to create products that are both accessible to a wide audience and capable of fostering a sense of connection with their users.
If you grab an opinionated product, and you don't agree with the opinions embedded into the product, you're going to have an awful experience. It will do things that you don't want it to do, and it will prevent you from doing things that you do want to do.
It will be one big fight, and you'll always be on the losing end.
For example, I love Arc and how it steers me away from "tab pollution". It does that by auto-archiving tabs, which I found strange to begin with. I actually changed the settings away from the default 12 hours of idle time for a tab to be archived after several days instead. They allowed me to tweak their opinions, but I changed it back after realising the idea is to either organise it into folders, notes, pinned tabs or get rid of it.
Contrary to that, if you have strong opinions about a problem and you use an un-opinionated product, you will be able to do what you want, but it will feel like a huge burden on you, because you have to establish all the opinions yourself.
Take the example of e-mail, if you want to manage your email in a certain way, you must create the required folders for you to do so, you have to create rules or manually move emails arounds to fit your opinion and routine.
How do you find your own opinions?
When you go look for e-mail services or e-mail clients, you want something that will match your opinion. But how do you find that? It's not like you get an opinion list to filter by.
This is also why you end up trying so many SaaS products to address the same problem. You sign up, try to go through a fake situation to evaluate the product and you often leave frustrated because it does 80% of what you want it to do, but there's this little thing that it does wrong, and another little thing that it doesn't do at all.
So the only product you'd be happy with, is made for a customer of one: You!
There's always this little thing that makes you or your company so special. "We always print the invoice after approval, so that we can keep it for accounting".
This is one of the reasons small SaaS companies can compete with big players in a given space; they have a strong opinion, they make noise about it, build community and create followers. Those become loyal customers, they make the company successful until they become the behemoth in this space and gets disrupted by a young team.
Integrations shapes Opinions
Lots of software products, particularly SaaS products, offer a bunch of integrations with other services that you can use to tailor the different flows to better fit your need.
You can use those integrations to manifest your own opinions in the product to some extend, but it still relies on how this product chose to integrate with another product — a product that also has its own opinions, or a lack of them.
An API offered by a product is perhaps a stronger way to shape it the way you want. Instead of manually moving things around, to fit your opinionated workflow, you can do it with code, that uses their API to do things for you.
But it does require code.
Another common trend that's still rising, is trigger based automation. Zapier is a key player in this space. It is similar to an API, but without the need to write code.
You basically set a trigger, for example, when I receive an e-mail. Then you assign it an action, which could be take all the attachments and upload them to Dropbox.