I have mentioned before about the dangers of soliciting user feedback to guide your product development. If you’re using a product you’re going to have very good ideas about how to improve it based on the way you’re interacting with it today. But truly revolutionary steps forward don’t really come from simple questions like “What would you like to see in the next release of our product?”
However, there are good ways to get your community to provide feedback.
What you’re reading right now is powered by WordPress. This open source personal publishing software has improved significantly over the last few years, and it was already a good choice in early 2007 when I started this blog. Now, WordPress 2.9 is in the pipeline. The developers are soliciting feedback from users in a more granular way. They already know what they want to add in that release, but they turned to the community to rank the priority of each feature. To me, this is a great hybrid approach between wide open feedback gathering and closed-door “developer knows best” approaches. The results of the WordPress inquiries are not really all that surprising, although I definitely believe putting everything into the core is a mistake over time. Feature bloat is the leading cause of software death these days.