Adding a caveat is rarely the right thing to do when talking about your product*.

It starts of with a good intention: you love the new feature your team has built (or maybe an old feature that people aren’t aware of) and want to tell current and potential customers about this new benefit. Simply describing the feature seems a little flat. A conversation with Marketing adds extra qualifiers, such as ‘real-time’ or ‘guaranteed’ to help reassure your customers.

Suddenly your feature unravels – it’s not necessarily real-time. Or guaranteed. Edge-cases, legacy systems and real life get in the way. All of a sudden, you’re questioning whether to put it in your collateral at all. What just happened?

Creating uncertainty with enthusiasm
Unfortunately, by adding an adjective to your innocent feature – you created this problem. Most features aren’t meant to cover 100% of all possibilities.

By adding an adjective or two, you’ve forced yourself to qualify the feature:

  • When doesn’t it work?
  • Are there cases when a customer might see or receive something unexpected?
  • What happens if you’re offline?
  • Is this now misleading?
  • Should these cases be ironed out before you talk about it at all?!

It’s a headache – and incredibly easy to get yourself into. I’ve been caught several times where edge-cases and good intentions dilute the strong message into a limp conversation.

Be confident about your feature
Relax – it’s a good feature, isn’t it?! You did your research and listened to customer and stakeholder feedback before you built it? Sure, maybe you hit a bump in the development road along the way, dealt with a software limitation or two, but your feature still delivers real customer value, right? If so, relax and be confident about it.

That little asterisk sows a seed of uncertainty that customers have been trained to question. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is, etc.
As soon as you add that symbol – you’re admitting that your statement wasn’t actually 100% true (even if it’s in a small and insignificant way). That’s the death knell to good, simple “quick wins” and the way to create a behemoth of a feature, which caters for everyone but pleases no-one.

Lose the adjectives
Why does your feature have to be advertised as the best, fastest, largest, guaranteed or your money back? Your customers are intelligent and are capable of making up their own minds whether your service is valuable to them or not. Leave it to them. The best services don’t need to claim they are the best in their collateral – people know it to be true (and stick around to become loyal customers).

Wait for customer feedback before you mess with it
If customer’s are confused, they will tell you.
Don’t preempt a question by adding a string of limitations or restrictions. Let them find it out as they use your service. If it really annoys them, they’ll say so – if not, you’ve just saved your feature looking weak (and possibly adding unnecessary edge cases to your backlog). Do measure everything though – knowing where customers are struggling is always valuable.

As you can tell, I think there are very few real reasons why a claim requires a star after it – if you find yourself doing it, stop and think if your description reasonably describes most (not all) users, and if so – leave it off.
What do you think? Are there cases when using a caveat is acceptable? Do you get frustrated when you find an advertised feature/price unavailable to you and hidden behind a pesky star? Let me know your thoughts.

*caveat/disclaimer/footnote/qualifier/condition – same difference! Did make you look for the the footnote didn’t I? Now do you see how significant a little * can be?

Ok, today feels a little weird.

A pretty normal day: work, cold, family time and bed.

Elsewhere, someone moved into political office – a bit like the changing of the guard, but with more guns and smaller hats.

I get frustrated when I read the news – we have it on in the office, it’s a little distracting but makes us feel more connected to current affairs. 

Problem is, sometimes you’d rather not watch real life, but immerse yourself in fantasy. This is one of those days.

My suggestion, put the fire on, make a cuppa and immerse yourself in fantasy…

I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions, and we’re already well into January, but I came to a conclusion, much like Danny Wallace, to write a blog post on my website every day.

To be fair on myself, I’m no going to beat myself if I miss a day or two, the key is to stop waiting to write a masterpiece and start writing anything!

I’ve got other aims this year, which h I’ll talk about as I get there – but hopefully reading these pieces won’t be too laborious. I promise I won’t take it personally if you unfollow me on Facebook, if you find them dull or repetitive.

What are your aims for this year and why?

Watched it for the first time last night. It was riotous and silly and a little obscene – and very funny!

I particularly loved the Ferris Bueller hommage after the end.

#spoilers #nsfw

P.S. As a rather geeky aside, this was the first time I streamed a film from my Plex server at home, over the internet, while Amy was watching it at home. Who needs Netflix, eh?!

WhatsApp was in the news this week due to a rather inflamatory article from the Guardian:

Privacy campaigners criticise WhatsApp vulnerability as a ‘huge threat to freedom of speech’ and warn it could be exploited by government agencies

Initial reading is alarming, even going as far as recommending that people trying to avoid government surveillance should stop using it immediately. That sounds really serious.

Signal founder, Moxie Marlinspike, responded on the Signal blog strongly:

Today, the Guardian published a story falsely claiming that WhatsApp’s end to end encryption contains a “backdoor.”

One fact of life in real world cryptography is that these keys will change under normal circumstances. Every time someone gets a new device, or even just reinstalls the app, their identity key pair will change. This is something any public key cryptography system has to deal with. WhatsApp gives users the option to be notified when those changes occur.

The fact that WhatsApp handles key changes is not a “backdoor,” it is how cryptography works.

Given the size and scope of WhatsApp’s user base, we feel that their choice to display a non-blocking notification is appropriate. It provides transparent and cryptographically guaranteed confidence in the privacy of a user’s communication, along with a simple user experience. The choice to make these notifications “blocking” would in some ways make things worse.

So we can breathe a sigh of relief, right? Not quite.
While I’ve got much more faith in the Signal Protocol, than I do the Guardian’s fluid reporting (particularly on tech-related matters) – it does raise an interesting question:

Should we be asking our online services whether they could (or even do, if they are allowed to tell us) provide a backdoor for government entities?

I think so. Without asking this question frequently, we forget that actually these online services usually answer to a higher power, government entities – which means that unless steps are taken to specifically encrypt and avoid inadvertent logging, your messages/emails/photos etc aren’t as private as you think they are.

I’m not suggesting that everyone jumps on VPN or Tor, just to circumvent snooping that may or may not be happening now (or in the future). Nor am I suggesting that everyone is actually breaking the law and needs to avoid this level of encryption – but unless the public understands the consequences of turning a blind eye to government online surveillance, we risk sleepwalking into a less secure and less transparent online world.

I’m off to back up my email somewhere safe – any recommendations?