In the history of evolution it is generally better to complicate than to simplify. But complication can hit a wall.
If most websites were organisms, they would constitute very dysfunctional ones. They would have a strange digestive system. It would have a capacity to eat lots and lots of content. But that content would either remain in the stomach or colon. Because most websites cannot poop.
Review and removal of old and out-of-date content is crucial for the successful management of large websites. And yet, these critical processes are lacking in most organizations. There’s a reason.
At one level, evolution is very good at removing organisms that can’t compete. However, within an organism evolution is not so tidy. “It is “easier” to add stages onto an already effective sequence than it is to modify earlier steps in the sequence,” state Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart in their excellent book, The Collapse Of Chaos. “So most innovations that offer a competitive edge are refinements that often complicate (and often enlarge) the adult stage of organisms…. It is more likely that competitive advantage will be gained by adding something than by removing it.”
We are built to add rather than remove. Most human systems reward addition rather than subtraction. This is particularly the case with content. Many content professionals are essentially paid by the word. It is a cult of volume, particularly on the web where content producers have generally run wild.
I work mainly with large organizations and it is very rare indeed when I come across one that thinks it has too little content. It is also rare to find any functioning process for review and removal.
There is often a fear of removal. “If you tinker with an early stage, however, you may well mess up everything that happens afterward,” Cohen and Stewart write. Supposing you decide to remove something; it was presumably there for a reason, so you’ll lose whatever advantage it originally conveyed.”
Simplicity is about removal. To simplify you have to take away. But, as Cohen and Stewart point out, “The advantage you gain by simplification either has to be so good that you don’t mind, or (more likely) the thing you’ve removed has already become obsolete. … Most of the time, complicating development is, paradoxically, simpler than simplifying it. … In a complex structure, tweaking and fussing, adding quality control or bells and whistles, has a much better chance of giving a competitive edge than does simplification.”
The above evolutionary logic at least partly explains why large websites continue to get larger. “But this process of continuing complication can’t go on forever,” Cohen and Stewart write. “Living creatures are forced by evolutionary pressure to operate right at the limits of what they are capable of, to perform a delicate balancing act on the edge of disaster. There may come a time when the “style” of an organism—its system of organization—starts to get top heavy.”
Is your website getting top heavy? If so, you need to focus as much time and attention on reviewing and removing as you do on publishing.