2000 feature requests: Our foray into Uservoice

Question: What do you do with two thousand feature requests sitting in an issue-tracking system?
Answer: Nothing.
We have so many requests because we make it clear that we want to hear from our customers.  And they talk to us… a lot!  It’s great that so many people have submitted so many ideas, but we’re drowning.
How do you prioritize 2000 items?  How do you know which ones were really important to the requestor and which were just a passing fancy?  How do you track which ones are related or are duplicates or have a common solution?  How do you have separate discussions internally and with customers to dig up the root problems?
You don’t.
And anyway you only have time to implement a tiny fraction of the requests, so almost all the time you spend getting the list ship-shape is wasted on features you’ll never implement.
You could ignore feature requests entirely on the theory that the important stuff is requested often enough that priority makes itself apparent.  This works if your product is extremely simple, and if you’ve decided it won’t have many features.  If you can get away with such a product, by all means do!  But not all software can be simple.
Besides, I like the fact that we get feature requests.  Our customers tell us what to build — it’s a logical way to create a product people will pay for.  But thousands of feature requests areimpossible to manage; it’s almost the same as having none.

Enter Uservoice.  What a great name; it says what it does, it’s evocative, it’s even empowering (“giving users a voice”).  The concept is simple: Anyone can post feature requests and vote on their favorite ones.  Each request has a mini discussion forum.  The most popular requests rise to the top of the list.
Want to see it in action?  Visit our page: http://feedback.codecollab.com/

We’re going to push the hell out of Uservoice.  For example, we’re putting a “Suggest” button in the menubar of every screen in our software.  Every feature request sent to tech support will be redirected there, and we’ll be going through our feature backlog redirecting folks to the new site.
The hope is that users will self-organize.  Popular features will have more discussion, not just amongst users (because who can agree on the best way to implement something?) but between our developers and our beloved users.  Now we can ask questions of everyone interested in a certain feature, hopefully getting to the heart of the real pain that our users are sharing.  We could never do that with a massive list of line-items in an issue tracker.
If this works, the same technique could be used for all sorts of things:
  • We’re setting up an private Uservoice site to track marketing ideas — we have 50-100 ideas and we’d like to start internal discussions on which ones to try next.
  • Have one Uservoice site for existing customers and a separate one for potential customers just trying it out.
  • Let your customers give you feedback on your website.
  • If you’re a consultant, lawyer, speaker or other professional you could use it for anonymous feedback.
  • Company “management” could demonstrate they care about doing a good job by opening a personal, anonymous site for feedback (like glassdoor, but private).
I’ll keep you posted as we learn more about Uservoice’s shortcomings and advantages.

If you have experience with Uservoice or any other self-organizing feedback system, or if you’ve contributed to our feedback site, please help us all by leaving a comment!