Getting in touch with your users
About 7 years ago I was in the fortunate position to establish a discussion forum to support a major desktop transformation programme I was doing. The forum allowed users to have discussions directly with the architects and engineers who were responsible for their environment. In addition it allowed the development team to post announcements, seek feedback, or drill into difficult to reproduce problems.
Developers and users alike loved the direct interaction that resulted. Users felt they could get to the right people for once, and really understand why some touch decisions had been taken. The development team gained a much better understanding and admiration for the users and how they exploited their environment.
Of course blogs are providing a similar mechanism today, for commercial products and I think blog authors or teams are getting a similar buzz from the direct and interactive feedback. Ed Brill from Lotus writes:
In fact, there was a time where one of my managers told me that I was “wasting” too much time in the forums, and I just ignored the input. Why? Because I assert that my career success is based in part on my online community interaction. It provides a connection between me as an individual decision-maker at IBM and my customers, prospects, partners, and competitors, in a way that is incredibly powerful. I am usually one of the first to know of a press article about Lotus products or our competition. I’m reading, and regularly directed, to blogs, white papers, downloads, and forums where Lotus products are discussed. As such, it’s evolved to the point where specific postings in discussions on the LDD communities and in the Lotus Partner Forum are directed to me individually — even when the question is completely outside of my area of responsibility (I’m especially flattered when it is a highly technical question :).
Although I have a blog now it does not get the traffic volumes and level of comments that are needed to get the same buzz that Ed talks about. I look back on those days with fond memories and encourage anyone else considering a major change project to setup a similar channel to communicate and discuss the change directly with their users.