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Users – a valuable asset

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Every now and then I come across a blog post that portrays users as impolite, stupid or ignorant – or a combination of all three. Blog posts like these are often written by developers, and more often that not open source developers. Of course, developers that are dependant on keeping users happy and actually make a profit out of their product would probably never treat their users as ignorant morons in the first place, but that’s a different discussion.

Or is it? Why is it so that many open source developers have an attitude of (poorly hidden) hostility towards their users? Not their “advanced users” crowd, but their general crowd of non-technical, uninformed, casual users?

You’ll often see it posted on forums and blogs with replies such as “if it’s so important to you, why don’t you just code it yourself”, “good suggestion, I assume you submitted a patch for that”, “it’s not spelled like that, STFU”, and different variations over the same theme. They all have the same thing in common – expecting the “user” to be skilled up to a certain level in something that is obviously not their domain. I’m not an accountant so whenever I’d speak to mine, I wouldn’t have the first clue where to look for answers. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea where to look for solutions, tips or ideas before I contacted him. If I had a bad day, I would probably not even be very polite – especially if my taxes were due tomorrow. Why would your users? Are they developers? Are we not confident enough in our product/project/solution to think that it might be a critical or important component in our users application stack?

What do we gain from treating users with a wall of sarcasm, poorly disguised elitism and a general attitude of “you’re not worth my time”? Absolutely nothing, unless you thrive on trying to make yourself feel superior to others.

Enough talk, let’s get to the point. Users are your main asset. They are the reason you’re writing software. Why bother releasing it in the first place if it’s only supposed to suit you? Sure, others may learn from the technical merits (or lack of), but that’s not the main reason why we develop. And if you take pride in writing good software – and release that software to the public – you should also take pride in treating your users with respect and friendliness.

Usually even the most hostile, impolite, poorly written and worded comment has a deeper or suppressed meaning. Does it reveal a lack of proper documentation? Is it a perfect example of why your UI is poor? Does the question reflect your lack of understanding about how your users behave or use your software? Instead of just brushing off users as “stupid” – look for the reason why they’re asking the questions they do. Treat your users as assets – even the “dumbest” question may add value.

In the end, you can’t cover all your bases – and some questions are just plain stupid. But they’re the exception – not the rule. Treat your users nicely. Let them feel involved (even if they’re not and it’s only a false sense of involvement), heck let them even get involved. As unrealistic as it may sound – maybe one day you might have to ask someone about something you know nothing about.

Written by Daniel André

August 31, 2010 at 23:39

Posted in Uncategorized

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