Why are the basics so important? The simpler an interface is, the more people will be able to use it. And if there’s a benefit to using it (such as good search results), then the easier it is to use, the more people will use it. Multiply this by the size of the customer base online, and you have a lever that moves entire industries.
It bears pointing out that the success of the Web itself owes a lot to this principle. Well before Berners-Lee coded his first hyperlink, there was a global network of computers in place – computers which could share text, photos, music, and anything else representable in bits. There were programs to navigate this Net: FTP, Gopher, Telnet, and others. There was just one problem: it was way, way too hard for the average user to use. So practically no one used it. But with Berners-Lee’s hyperlinks, suddenly people could traverse the Net with the ease of a mouse-click. One small change in the interface – not the hardware or the underlying network – was the catalyst to the explosive growth that followed. Basics sell.
All this must seem odd to marketers who, in decades past, were taught to create the longest possible list of high-tech features… and then sell those features with lots of happytalk and faux excitement. That’s how the wireless carriers still operate, and how the search engine industries used to work, until Yahoo and Google became successful. Without Berners-Lee’s hyperlinks, imagine what technologists might be marketing today: the latest Gopher interface, “now with trans-Boolean metafiltering!”