When you're building out a product, it can get really hard to understand what the actual problems are with your product. There's a sense of ownership that's hard to get away from, making criticism often feel sharp and bitter. But, the customer is always right. And, for relatively established software products, big or small, finding feedback online is totally feasible.
Getting user feedback comes down to understanding what developers want. Ultimately, unless you're in consulting, the software developers are going to decide whether to use your product or not. This is true whether you're working with white label products, microservices, or even B2C applications. The real technical feedback for your product will come from your users – developers.
Ultimately, developers are going to decide whether to use your product or not.
Here are 5 places you can look to check the pulse of developers:
Blogs and news media are an absolutely fantastic place to get detailed information. And, they're usually the second place users go after your product's website. They Google search "<insert product here> reviews" and click on the first five links.
Let's take Docker as an example (disclaimer: they have not been a client, to-date). Check out this article on Infoworld. The article divides up into the "Good" and "Bad" about Docker, quoting CEOs and developers who use Docker and build a case for and against Docker. Potential Docker customers are going to come to this website, skim through it, and look at some of the key terms. They'll see that it's called simple and has great developer support. But, they'll also see that implementing it can be complicated and it's not really versatile for diverse workloads.
A developer is going to look at these reviews and try to fit their own company/needs in there. So, it's really valuable to look at these blogs and understand the messaging that the blogs are putting out so you can tackle it head on.
Github is both a haven for developers as well as the bane of their existence. As a software developer myself, Github has both saved me and screwed me in the past. But, as a product developer, Github Issues are where you look to hope that someone else had the same problem you did so that you can try the solution they found. It's also where developers can suggest features and complain about problems.
Let's take the example of Docker again. Their Github page for their CLI has, currently, 167 open issues and 151 closed issues. It's not a bad ratio, but it means that they do get their fair share of complaints. Of course, it is also an open-source project, which means that they've got a great amount of merged pull requests too. So, they're obviously active on Github, which means that they're understanding where their customers are coming from head on.
Their project gets live feedback as developers encounter problems. That's a huge benefit of open-sourcing parts of your product. Even if you don't open-source the core product, savvy developers will build APIs on top of your products, which will let you get feedback through them.
StackOverflow is the ultimate source for a developer's pain. It's the first link we click on when we have problems, the first place we cry our hearts out, the first home for a lot of my code (I promise I'm a good developer). If your product is tagged on StackOverflow, that's not a bad thing! It means that users are making an active effort to use your product. It helps you gauge community support and understand what problems consumers are facing.
Let's go back to Docker. Docker's got about 39,000 questions about it, indicating an active community of users. A lot of top-voted questions are about understanding what Docker does, some of its configuration tools, and performance comparisons.
Unlike Github, it's a fantastic place to understand the both lower level technical issues and higher level issues with your product. StackOverflow also helps you understand your community of developers, providing you with an insight into how active and useful they are.
Reddit, the homepage of the internet, is a great place to keep track of the high level thoughts that people have about your product. It's not usually the first place users will go, but, again, it's a great place to understand your community. People will use Reddit to discuss future steps, compare products, and get technical help. It's more of a discussion forum than any of the other previously mentioned websites.
Docker has its own subreddit, where users can discuss topics. A lot of the posts are asking for help or are comparing different products. Reddit is also a great place to judge what people think about your products and announcements. For example, Docker announcing native Kubernetes support was received with a lot of fanfare.
Twitter is where you go to look at memes about your product. Look up "#<insert product here>". It's also where developers complain and exclaim about your product at a more personal level, just like Reddit. They'll discuss problems and frustrations, and tweet about successes and meetups. In Docker's case, users share articles and memes, discuss their product tech stacks, and post pictures of conferences where they heard about Docker.
Having an active Twitter is a great way to engage your community, and following your products' Twitter hashtags is a great way to pick up what your customers feel about your product.
Once you can grasp where the developers are coming from, you can start pitching to them much more granularly and pivot towards their needs. Remember, potential customers are going to go to your website first. You can leverage this by taking the feedback you've garnered and hook them in, so they go to the other sources more informed. Successful companies listen to their customers while simultaneously innovating in their own rights.
Harvard CBE can help your company understand your product strategy in the context of your competitors.
Dhruv Gupta is a Managing Director for CBE, and a junior at Harvard studying Computer Science and Government.