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Do user forums sometimes stop software from improving?

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Don't get me wrong, I love forums of course (especially this one :-*), but I've started to wonder about a few of the ones I frequent. Do user forums sometimes stop software from improving?

What I am talking about is when you see multiple new users post similar requests or issues they are having, which usually break down to some feature not being intuitive in the user interface, or some process taking too many steps, when it could be done more efficiently by making a few changes.

What usually happens next is one of the power users on the forum posts a workaround for the issue, or even just a link to some of the previous similar posts the user could have searches for.

I am sure you know the type .. post count in the thousands, signature is longer than his response, usually in some "Power User" group on the forum making him feel almost like a representative of the company, zealous about beating down any criticism.

The problem is that a workaround is just that .. a way around the actual problem, not solving it. And my fear is that sometimes having these user forums where power users propagate the workarounds they found and use to new users will stop the software developers from realizing maybe there is something that should be changed here.

They may monitor the forums and read the posts, but they may also get a "problem solved" kind of feeling when they see a power user posting a workaround.

What do you think?

something in my gut tells me there might be some truth to the general idea that forums can have, in addition to their incredibly positive effect on software development, a downside.

but that just may be my bias to assume everything Jibz says is correct :)

because i'm not sure your example works for me.  when i see other users help someone out with a problem with one of my programs, i just get a big feeling of gratitude that someone was helped and someone took the time to help them.  and it means i can focus on those problems that perhaps others can't solve.  it also let's me get a better perspective from the outside looking in, for what problems people have and what kind of workarounds people are using, and how well they are understood.

one way in which forums could hinder development is by causing the kinds of problems that people talk about in project management disasters, when you have too many people involved in going back and forth with contradictory design requirements, or group-think problems where people get caught up in bad ideas.  but those are things that i think have more to do with a failure of the person at the top of the project (the coder in our case) to adequately manage the ideas being discussed.

One very real way it can stop a piece of software from improving is when the forum becomes home to so much negativity and criticism that the developers decide it's not worth it to continue.

I've seen this happen several times now over in the FOSS world.

Forums can kill something just as easily as they can help it.

Something to think about. And even more importantly, something to remember when participating in a thread.


the thing I noticed about this is the idea that users posted about a problem in a forum (stay with me on this)

nothing wrong with this, it is the right thing to do, but if there is a problem - and the fact that somebody has come up with a workaround indicates there is - shouldn't they be communicating with the developers?

It's an obvious assumption that the developers will monitor a forum, or even that they will be responsible for it, but at the end of the day that is still an assumption (there are thousands of forums run by fans/user groups that have nothing to do with the developers).

If you want advice on how to do something, then a forum is probably the right place for your post, but if you want/need something fixed/changed, go directly to the developers.  You may not get an immediate response (ie fix), but at least the developers will have some idea of the scope of the issue (does it affect 1 user, or 100) and probably how to resolve it. 

This is called feedback and is an important part of the development cycle

This seems obvious in retrospect, but strangely few people seem to do it (though I often see people here doing it)


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