Getting Feedback with UserVoice

When developing any application, getting proper user feedback during the early stages is essential if you want to have the application suit your customers’ needs. Often this is done with staged tests, but with web applications you can have the benefit of using an online method of retrieving your users’ opinions.

However, doing so can be tricky. If you want to get feedback, you can implement your own system for soliciting it, however, this takes up extra time that could be used to further develop your core web application. Alternatively, there are some existing online services that can provide survey-like questionnaires to users, but honestly, these present more trouble to the user than they’re worth.

When I first started using Stack Overflow, I noticed that the feedback service they had been using, UserVoice, was an elegant and functional solution to this problem.

UserVoice takes care of the problem for you, by providing you with an easy-to-use comment and feedback forum. (It can also be a place where users can submit bug reports, as well) However, it’s more than just a forum: By allowing users to “vote” on particular topics, it allows clustering of the most popular ideas/requests, thus bringing them to your attention the most. It also helps prevent duplicate topics from being submitted, and is a great “Digg-style” way of using the “wisdom of the crowds”, as they say.

There are some drawbacks, of course. If you’re using it to allow users to submit bugs, I wouldn’t rely on it as your sole bug tracker. Instead, I’d use it to receive the reports, then parse through and verify them before adding them to a proper bug tracker (like Trac) where they can be better integrated into your development work-flow. Furthermore, if you have a popular site, the feedback forums can still become deluged in too many requests/ideas, but that is a problem no matter what type of system you’re using for feedback. And, as mentioned before, the voting system helps to bring to your attention the most popular ones so that you can further make a value judgment.

I’ve since launched a feedback forum for RunTrackr, my side project for the past little while. I encourage you to give UserVoice a try, since it’s so easy to get started – you’re literally up and running inside of two minutes. At a minimum, give their home page a visit – it does a great job of explaining the process in a simple and easy-to-understand manner.

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