Building a community as large and active as TMDb can be very hard sometimes. One of the things I find hardest to do is making sure I follow my own gut when it comes to prioritizing requests. Always saying yes is never the right answer and I tend to think that since I got this far, I must be doing something right. Right?
Since I get feature requests on a daily basis the biggest problem is that I am often in the middle of something, like a new feature, so these requests come in and bombard my attention, distracting me from my task at hand. Since I’m not the kind of project leader that just chucks ideas into a drawer that never gets looked at, I always take the time to have a conversation. I can understand why a lot of people don’t do this though, to them it’s just noise. Noise that is annoying.
In a larger organization, the distance between the support team, the planning team and the actual engineers is at least a few people deep. For a one man shop like TMDb, that distance is completely non-existent. Most engineers on a team like this have a ticket they’re working on and a deadline. That’s it. So how do I try to stay on top of it all?
I have found the best way to handle this is via 2 primary means of communication. First, I’m a huge believer in giving users a place to have a real discussion. Sorry, but this is not Twitter or Facebook. I actually have a real hard time trying to support users on Twitter. 140 characters is rarely enough to say anything meaningful. Forums are, in my opinion one of the best places for this type of discussion. I built my own solution for TMDb so it’s perfectly catered for our type of users and requests. Email is viable but since it’s not publicly viewable by other users, there can be a lot of repetition. Plus, people are pretty smart and I love it when 3rd (or 4th) parties come in and contribute to a conversation.
Once I agree that the request is valid, I head off to create a ticket. For this I use Lighthouse. Lighthouse is a nice a simple place where I can create tickets and keep my roadmap relatively planned. I only have 3 types of tickets. Features, bugs and chores. From here, I’m sure my process looks pretty similar to what you’re doing. It’s heads down, make something new!
Took me a few paragraphs to zero in on what I am trying to say. I guess what I am trying to encourage you to do if you have a project of your own, is to make sure to take the time and listen to your users even when it can be a distraction. This certainly doesn’t mean saying yes to everything and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time either. I spend about 45-60 minutes a day going through our forums, email and Twitter and people are ecstatic that I even reply to them! The internet has set this bar really low which is why it’s so easy to shine. I hope some of you will take more time and just be friendly and have a real conversation. There’s more to talking with users than just feature requests. Trust me, your project will thank you.