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Paradox of Choice Paradox

In Joel on Software‘s post on Choices = Headaches Joel refers to Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice:

The more choices you give people, the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they’ll feel. See, for example, Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice. Let me quote from the Publishers Weekly review: “Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options (‘easy fit’ or ‘relaxed fit’?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being.”

And in what I believe to be an amazing paradox itself, instead of linking to an Amazon link where you can buy the book, or maybe the book or author’s home page, instead he links to a site that provides 20 different purchase links. If that isn’t a paradox of choice paradox I don’t know what is.

Google provided a great example of how less choices is better then more choices. They were one of the first search engines to assume an AND between search terms instead of an OR. Other search engines would make your results larger the more words you added to your search, while Google would make it smaller, allowing you to drill into what you are looking for. Also Google’s user interface has always had very few links. Their home page still only has 13 links. I don’t even what to try counting the links on any other search engine or portal site.


  1. Glenn Fleishman

    You bring up a great point about my site,, which Joel links to. I have wrestled over the years with how to avoid a state of overchoice while still providing people with the selections that represent expectations. Perhaps ironically,’s approach was developed in reaction to earlier book-comparison sites that showed sometimes hundreds of prices, displaying every book price and shipping combination!

    I have been working assiduously (with the help of another programmer) on the guts of to provide a new interface in which I hope to solve some overchoice. Casual and first-time users might be presented with the three best prices and click to find others. Regular users could choose their favorite stores to show up with prices, while the best prices below those stores (if any) were indicated for comparison.

    Other ideas are welcome, too. Because so many people shop at just a handful of the options I present, this means I should restrict what I display. But even the worst-performing store that I show result from can generate $100s in affiliate revenue per year, it’s difficult for me to turn to reduce choice in order to better returns. I will have to test this, of course, to see if one follows from the other or not.

  2. Jim

    I agree that is a quandary Glenn. I think you are on the right track and I wish you luck in offering just enough choices in just the right way.

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