Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Social networks... a new challenge and a new risk for software libre projects

More and more people is now using KDE 4, and specially non technical people. Since KDE4 is improving fast but do not have yet all the features and apps that KDE 3.5 did, it is easy to think that old KDE users will have many requests or questions the following monthes. Since the usability of KDE4 is new in many ways, there will be many users also asking for help.

I have a feeling that lately more and more people is complaining/making questions in identi.ca/twitter about features or non key points that they miss, don't like or, simply don't work as they expected.

The commitment of every KDE developer to answer as many questions or comments as they can is out of doubt, but this question-answer approach do not scale, since these tools do not work as chats, forums or mailing lists (the major tools we have used in the past for support purposes). They do not have a single entrance from where to route them to the right information or person. They need a new language, different procedures, different interfaces, different tools (social desktops ;) )....

I'm not sure the policies we had in the past for supporting users are going to be as efficient as they were. Probably a different strategy to handle all these requests and complains is needed for these social tools. From my point of view is becomming something to be worry about since the impact of so many people making requests or complaining about different issues are becomming significant and it can turn into relevant.

Software libre projects have a nice chance to change the way they interact with users. Social networks force people to become concise. We can use that. But they are also great tools for expressing feelings worldwide... and that is a huge risk if they get frustrated with our software.

How do we route requests and complains through social network tools? How do we track and proccess what they want, what they need? How do we make ourselves visible so they know where/who to ask? How are we going to coordinate efforts through these tools? How do we adapt other tools we use (wiki, bug tracker, mailing lists, chat) to this new scenario? How do we include social network tools into our support and maintenance strategy? Or their impact will be so big that those classic strategies won't work anymore?

Maybe we have to assume some risks and, once more, innovate....maybe this is nothing to worry about...
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