I am about to plunge this often-erratic blog over a sharply-defined edge and into a sea of clear certainty.
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk feedback.
How many times have you been presented with a survey in which you were highly interested but failed to complete?
How often do you play a song you enjoy yet neglect to rate it?
How many software bugs have plagued your mobile device of choice and were not followed by reports sent to the developer(s)?
I think it’s safe to say that the one aspect of feedback that keeps our complaining (or praising) confined to unproductive quarters is the frequent disconnect between the usage and the feedback opportunity. At least in my experience, far too often the feedback mechanisms are separated from the origin of their need, especially when that starts with a mobile device. The greater the gap, the less likely we may be to take the step that can actually serve to prevent future aggravation.
This is extremely ironic given the basic human need for acceptance. A large part of acceptance is driven by receiving and processing critical feedback on our behaviors, appearances and performances. Without feedback, we are doomed for dysfunction. Feedback signals the acceptable, norms the abnormal, sharpens the fuzzy number.
This was especially driven home for me when we were discussing ways to improve application testing at maemo.org. Too many useful applications were stalled by the progression process, which relied on “thumbs up” from a certain number of testers in order to graduate apps to a standard repository. While we hotly debated process details, I stepped back and broadened my scope. I noted that rating released applications faced a similar situation– the high number of downloads for many apps severely overshadowed the meager number of times users had bothered to provide a rating on the web form.
A radical idea began germinating. What if we brought feedback mechanisms closer to the usage? After all, there was plenty of precedent– such as song rating features on media players. Why not take it a step further? Push the concept so far up the open source development chain that we could look at this issue as an actual ecosystem. Integrate feedback features into the appropriate applications, allowing a high degree of user configuration.
A feedback ecosystem.
Peeling back this wonderful onion exposed layer after layer of potential usefulness. It could incorporate activities like:
- Bug reporting
- Application testing
- Media rating
- Developer donations
- Gaming achievements
…and all available to mobile devices! In friendly, easy-to-use contexts.
I quickly realized that one area where Linux lagged was, in an ironic slap at the very concept of open source, feedback infrastructure. Supporting tools, features and services ubiquitous to Apple and Microsoft environs were missing or incompletely implemented. As an example of efforts to address this, my illustrious friend Henri Bergius pointed me toward KDE’s Project Silk and it seemed very promising– until I noticed the low activity on the mailing list.
I originally started compiling related ideas into a presentation designed around Maemo devices, but the MeeGo announcement naturally changed that direction. And when the Akademy 2010 organizers asked the maemo.org community for whitepapers, this project seemed like a natural. Indeed, the proposed talk “Enhancing User Engagement on Mobile Devices” was accepted and I am currently in the process of fleshing it out for July’s presentation (update: done, and linked).
I’m still hopeful that our growing team of MeeGo volunteers can find synergy with Project Silk and I will continue pushing that. Regardless, I also believe there’s a tremendous amount of value in pursuing this for MeeGo’s sake alone so that will be the foremost goal. We have several needs for this metaproject so if you see a gap you can fill, don’t be shy– jump in! Discussion will take place on MeeGo mailing lists as well as the MeeGo forum.
Subsequent blog articles on this topic will begin drilling down and addressing individual needs in a detailed manner.
Feedback, of course, is very welcome. At the very least, please rate the article.