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I am an author of some ghost town software on Source Forge. The most important experience from it was the lack of feedback. The software was downloaded a few hundred times but I did not get any feedback from the users. I never learned why they decided not to use it. If Fair Software was a way to get feedback from users I am with you. -- ZbigniewLukasiak

I don't think fair software has anything to do with feedback. Lack of feedback has to do with a broken publication model. Currently, the publication model on the internet includes:

These are all, without exceptions, fundamentally broken. And the aggregation of these broken publication tools only exacerbates their problems.

What you need is something like a wiki page from which your users could download your software, and then leave comments (both public and private, with or without anonymity) in a talk page visible only from that page. A system like this is possible, but it's far beyond what most people are programmers are capable of imagining.

If you had published your software from a halfway decent publication tool, you would've had feedback.

More technology will not solve the fundamental problem that there is no human on the other end of the line to take the call. If there were developers who actually cared about user feedback and did something with it (FairProcess), there would be feedback. -- SunirShah

It was on Source Fourge. There are fora for discussions and my email was available. One would imagine that the cost of posting a feedback is very low - but somehow the fora, not only for my project, are mostly empty. I suspect the interface. -- ZbigniewLukasiak

I read a lot of fiction online but all of the feedback mechanisms I've encountered are utterly and completely broken. So despite having read literally hundreds of stories online, I've responded a grand total of maybe two dozen times.

Newsgroups are utterly broken. Every time you publish your address to any newsgroup, you get dozens of spam messages as a result. The problem is that it isn't anonymous. And since I rely on webemail, I can't provide a faked (ie, spam-blocked) email address. And even when someone has access to a client that allows such a thing, they rarely know how to make use of it.

Email itself is utterly broken. In order to email anyone, you need to know their email address. And given how much spam everyone's getting, I can understand why nobody publishes theirs anymore unless contractually obligated to do so (eg, institutional email address). And then there's the fact that it requires a very large shift (creating an expensive mental barrier) to go from reading a web page in a web browser, to emailing someone using some broken-down email client. And then of course, there are times when you want comments to be PUBLIC. What incentive is it that you can email someone in private when what you really want to do is drag them through the mud in public? (And you can't do it using a newsgroup for the reasons stated above.)

Then there's blogs, which is the main form of feedback on fanfiction.net (probably the biggest publication site of online fiction). Well, that's broken as well. First, the idiots who run the system decided that you have to REGISTER to use it. That's an enormous barrier to entry right there. And then of course, having registered, it's impossible to contribute anonymously. And then there's the fact that if you're going to write scathing criticism of a story you've actually spent the time reading, it's rare that you want to do this publically, dragging the author through the mud.

There are four primary communications modes:

and in today's world, you have to use radically different and incompatible tools to access each of these communications modes. That is not just broken but totally f-ed up the ###. And you know what's the worst part? Merging these communications modes together would create a tool able to defeat spam once and for all.

How much of this is motivated by developers who want to create PricklyHedges to insulate them against complaints and flamage? After all, if end users were 'nice' and fed developers PositiveEnergy?, they would be more motivated to improve the communications (a la the RoadNetwork metaphor of SocialSoftware), but often feedback is negative. One of my reasons for suggesting in FairSoftware that there be someone in charge of user feedback (in practice, a moderator) is they can make developer-user interactions a SafePlace?. For that part, I envision a new set of community development patterns in FairSoftware that would encourage positive feedback, maybe as simple as polls like, "What was you favourite improvement in release 1.6?" And BarnStar-like awards from users to their favourite developers/teams/features. -- SunirShah

A counterexample: I use a web form to receive anonymous feedback on a number of programs. My barrier to feedback is as low as that of downloading or using the programs. I don't get much feedback, but these programs are small and not widely used. My system uses the anonymous remailer as on my home page, and is easy to add tags for filtering based on the point of access. Although non-anonymity is truly unenforceable, it is always possible for an anonymous writer to give you contact information if they wish a reply. To avoid spam, one could also ask for and filter on a simple password included in the software package. -- DavidForrest

I'm an avid wiki, email and usenet user. Do you know how often I've used web feedback forms? Maybe two times, and just as likely zero. Do you know why? Because there's something fundamentally wrong with a publication tool over which one has absolutely zero user control. A tool over which the user of the tool has absolutely no control is so horribly f-ing broken that only a programmer could possibly be dumb enough to design it.

The lesson from this story? Your barrier to feedback is not "low" by any means. On the contrary, it is so unbelievably high as to be stratospheric. In some ways, it's even higher than if you required every user to register themselves.

Oh, and nobody in the mainstream gives a damn about "true anonymity" so that "advantage" of your feedback tool means absolutely nothing. -- RK

I agree with RK. There is no feedback problem if you are willing to accept open feedback and open discussion. Any working developer community is an example. For example I got DseWiki:DseAnregungen and DseWiki:DseProbleme on a single wiki without ever asking. -- HelmutLeitner

Maybe I should amend my example above -- I have the open, anonymous feedback form posted in addition to email, phone number, and a physical mailing address. I have gotten feedback on my feeble programs through three methods: telephone, email, and by far the most through the simple form that sends the contents of a single, freeform textbox to my email when the user clicks 'send'. People Gave Feedback, QED. Stratosphericly high barrier? I can't think of a way to lower the barrier further. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you are saying about 'absolutely zero user control', but I think that providing multiple low-investment methods of receiving feedback give the user lots of control of the feedback process and make giving feedback easier. I realize that you may never have given feedback through a web form, but have you ever given feedback? -- DavidForrest

Um, RK, is it a "publication tool" or is it a feedback form? What control is needed other than "type your feedback here then click send"? I'd like to note that you just used a web form to offer your feedback on the concept of feedback forms. --ChuckAdams

A web form by itself isn't a publication tool but the interface to a publication tool. What the other user was alluding to by the term "web form" was a very particular type of email client.

What control is necessary? All forms and types of control. For instance, it should be possible for users to revise, edit and revoke their own words even in a private and anonymous context like email. IOW, it should be possible for someone to edit an email after it has been sent. I could list many other vital features which all current publication tools lack, and many more which are only found in some publication tools and no others. -- RK

Editing an email after it was sent, and before it was read? Should be possible within a single system that exerts sole supervisory capacity over all its contents, e.g. Notes or Exchange. I know Exchange lets you "unsend" messages if they have not yet been read. Editing an email after it was read would undermine the trustworthiness of the medium, and many would think so even in the case of editing before open. It might have technical uses (e.g. collaborative editing) but then it would be hard to call it email. More than just a name, it would be intended for a different purpose, and perhaps demand a different interface ... such as a CMS. Mind you I think most CMS's just suck interface-wise too, but in different ways than email.

CMS == Content Management System. Different metaphors than email, a CMS is typically structured more like a virtual magazine or newspaper, with sections, editors, publishers, subscribers, and so on. The metaphors can be pretty awkward, and when they're rigidly applied, they make innumerable CMS systems suck ("CMS System" is one of those redundant things like "PIN Number" I guess). I suppose versioning would tend to solve the problem with email editing, though I still don't see it applying very well to email interchanged between autonomous systems (such as SMTP email). Something like Notes or Exchange or Groupwise however could easily pull it off. In fact, Notes is perfectly capable of doing it with very little effort, but it's not normally configured that way, especially for email. --ChuckAdams


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