Humans and technology are much better at adding than removing. That needs to change.

In my online banking there is a feature that allows me to save the details of entities to whom I need to transfer money. There’s a problem, though. Once added, there’s no way to delete the entity. So, my list is getting longer and longer.

Most content management systems are designed like that. The process of removing something is usually much harder than the process of publishing it. This reflects a deeper problem. The benefits of adding features and content are often obvious, but the benefits of not adding and/or removing are much less so.

Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, has written an excellent piece on the subject. Why do we add new features, he asks? Often the reply is that “It just makes sense. You're surprised that the product exists at all without this feature.” Or, “A big/important customer is asking for it.” Or, “It's not that hard. I think our dev team can crank it out in a weekend.” Or, “A competitor just added it.” Or, “It will drive revenue! Your gut is telling you that more people will buy, more people will stay, or your existing customers will spend more money if you have this feature.”

While the benefits of adding new content and features can be obvious to everyone, the costs are much less obvious. The first one is “Increase in setup time,” according to Shah. More configuration, more training, more time to sell, more time for the customer to understand.

This sort of cost often remains dormant. You add feature/content A and nothing bad happens. Then you add B, C, D, E … At some point you reach a tipping point of complexity. Things just get harder and you can’t pinpoint any one feature or piece of content as causing the problem.

Of course, as you add features/content your support costs often go up. Not if we’re talking about support content, you reply. Well, we have often found that when we delete 50% or more of support content, support calls and costs actually go down. Why? Because out-of-date, irrelevant and often inaccurate content was getting in the way of the quality stuff.

From a feature point of view Shah also mentions added infrastructure and maintenance costs. Finally, Shah mentions the cost of complexity. When you add something, “It's one more thing to track adoption of. It's one more thing you have to promote … It's one more hungry mouth to feed when you're trying to allocate limited product/engineering resources. It's one more row in your pricing/feature matrix. Every one of those things cost money. They just may not show up on your profit and loss on day one. They're subtle and somewhat hidden, but they're very, very real.”

Every piece of content you add makes it that bit harder to navigate your website. It makes your website harder to search. There are more pages to review. Every sentence you add can take away from the ability to focus on a much more important sentence. These are just some of the hidden costs of addition.