The complexity tax is demanded by those who want to create dependency.I was reading recently about a country that had "pervasive corruption and bureaucracy", and how this made it very complicated to do business. It reminded me about the book, The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando De Soto, in which he showed that the poorer the country, the more complicated the bureaucracy.
It also reminded me of an article I read about the decline of the British Empire. Seemingly, as the number of colonies continued to drop, the number of bureaucrats involved in colony administration rapidly increased. Strange? Not really.
While discussing a piece of software with one of its managers, he readily agreed with me that it had succumbed to too many features. However, he pointed out that each feature represented at least one job, and sometimes a team of people. Deleting a feature was thus tantamount to getting rid of someone. The programmers had become powerful and were seeking to increase features, not reduce them.
In another company it became clear that the increasing complexity of the IT infrastructure created a proportional dependency of the organization on the IT department. I do not believe that the IT department was deliberately seeking to create complexity, but neither do I believe that it was highly motivated to reduce it.
Most organizations are producing far too much content. Too many emails, too many PowerPoints, too many reports, too many webpages. All this content creation activity keeps a lot of people busy. Also, much content is far more complicated than it needs to be. Of course, there is a reason for this complexity.
If, for example, legal documents were genuinely easy to read and understand, then we wouldn't need as much advice from lawyers would we? Many who create content have an incentive to make it complicated because it creates a dependency on them.
Most of those who take bribes in poor and corrupt countries don't become very rich. The tax that corruption and complexity places on a country drains practically everyone's resources.
The complexity tax on an intranet affects the productivity and efficiency of the organization. It may benefit a particular person or department in the short-term, but creating unusable applications and unfindable, unreadable content will cost everyone in the long run.
The consequences of the complexity tax on a public website are even more severe and immediate. In money-rich, time-poor economies, there is no greater sin than to waste people's time. You thus tax their time and their attention at your peril. They will give you a couple of seconds and then they will hit the Back button.
Even government websites that have a monopoly must pay heed here. If the website is too complicated, then citizens will pick up the phone or drive to the government office. Thus, a complicated website means that services will be more costly for everybody.
There are forces at play within all organizations that seek to create complexity and dependency. These forces can be entrenched, but must be uprooted if we are to truly embrace all the promises that the Internet offers.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.