Jerry Nixon on Windows: A Kickstarter for features: It’s a Better kind of User Voice

Jerry Nixon on Windows

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Kickstarter for features: It’s a Better kind of User Voice


For decades, I’ve watched users and developers long for capabilities in Windows and .NET that never happen. Sites like Connect and User Voice collect our ideas and votes yet backlogs rarely react.

I believe product teams often chase the next big feature, forcing themselves to ignore small, love-creating improvements or tweaks that would build tireless loyalty from their user base.

For this reason, I would like to propose a new idea. A way to solicit, not feedback, but ideas from a user or developer community in a way that gets results and creates wonder. 

What’s wrong with User Voice?

This isn’t about User Voice, per se. The site’s fine. It’s about the reaching into a product team and impacting their backlog. Giving great ideas a social momentum that gets recognized as valuable.

We know up-voting ideas for Visual Studio, .NET, Windows, or anything else barely matters. I’m not being cynical but go look – the list of outstanding ideas is astronomical. But, it’s reasonable.

Team capacity. There are only so many product managers and so many engineers on any team. Their capacity to do anything has a real limit; asking for the moon is sometimes simply impossible.

Team priorities. There are roadmaps follow and next versions to build. Sometimes the best ideas simply don’t align with where a product is going; asking for THAT features just doesn’t work.

Team turnover. There is velocity-crippling turnover to consider. People move on, change happens, and the team might be rebuilding itself; asking for anything is crazy, just staying afloat is job one.

Internal politics. There are many things far outside the control of a product team. Reorganizations, changes in corporate priorities; asking for something might simply be impossible, considering.

Market change. There’s a real need to survive. Sometimes companies like Microsoft over-correct and create a brand-new problem; asking for something in this environment can be a stalemate.

In the end, outside developers and users of a product are important but are also a single voice in a chorus of influences pushing on the priorities of a product team. That’s just reality.

Side-effects

The rise of open source, if you ask me, is, in part because of this. Developers frustrated with expressing desires (to Microsoft) and not seeing an acceptable response, took things into their own hands.

The rise of more-frequent product releases is another. Product teams aching to deliver functionality to their community but hamstrung by larger constraints found a workaround, for better or worse.

It’s also worth pointing out that, especially in developer tooling, buckets of features are released every quarter as a direct result of user feedback. But nobody is denying features are left on the table.

Impacting priority

We can’t change capacity. We can’t change reality. But we can change priority – most of the time. This idea is rooted in a social contract with Microsoft agreeing: if the community does X, the team will do Y.

I assume you know what Kickstarter is. That side where someone with an idea gets socially funded; a grass roots approach bypassing traditional channels to get innovations and inventions realized.

Now imagine this: a site like Kickstarter for features. Where users or developers contribute to the feature with real money, pushing toward a target that, if reached, the product team agrees to deliver.

Where does the money go? Not to Microsoft. Every feature is a fund-raiser for a charity. If we raise $100,000 for breast cancer research, we’ll add a Purple Theme to Visual Studio. See what I mean?

Here’s another one: We’ll make Windows Forms work on Macs if we raise $250,000 for Doctors without Borders.  Teams can target timely charities, too. The point is, it’s a social agreement to do it.

Why would a product team do this? Because corporate citizenship is real. Because diversity and inclusiveness matter to Microsoft. Because, doing something good is a true motivator.

How much would a developer have to contribute? That’s the beauty of this. If you contribute a single dollar, you’re a contributor. Visual Studio has nearly 5 million users a month. This is possible.

Let’s all agree on one more thing. Software developers are not the lowest paid people on the planet. And why not do some good instead of complaining on Twitter? It’s twice the reward.

Well, do you think it could work?