Do the top developers for Google’s Android operating system use Blackberries? Do the IT guys developing Windows 7 use Macs? Do the folks at WordPress use Blogger to host their personal blogs?
These are purposely ridiculous questions – wouldn’t the best developers use the actual tools they’re responsible for building? Wouldn’t they do their job more effectively if they were actually a user of the product they’re developing? Doesn’t the product have more credibility if the people behind it are believers in the product’s features? Out of everyone, shouldn’t the development team, at least, be the biggest advocates of the very software they’re implementing? Shouldn’t they be the ones drinking the Kool-Aid?
Unfortunately, IT departments at large companies and government agencies are too often doing the equivalent of developing Android apps at work and using the iPhone at home. Sharepoint developers implement Sharepoint, yet they don’t use it to manage the implementation. The guys installing your organization’s blogging software don’t realize that the “Add a Picture” button doesn’t work because they don’t have blogs. The team responsible for increasing awareness of your Enterprise 2.0 platform haven’t even created profiles of themselves.
Now, take a look at the official support areas for WordPress, Telligent, MindTouch, Jive or any of the dozens of social software vendor sites. Notice anything? The developers are often the most active members of their respective communities and they’re using their own software day after day in the course of doing their jobs. If there’s a glitch involved with posting a new comment to a forum, they’re going to be the first ones to see it, diagnose the problem and fix it.
Sadly, I’ve been seeing these situations increase with the emergence of the Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 initiatives. IT departments are increasingly being asked to implement wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, video-sharing, and dozens of other varieties of collaboration software – software they may know how to code, but often have no idea how to actually use. They’re just told to “give us a wiki” or “develop a blog for me.” Actually using the blog or wiki isn’t a requirement. As as I was told by one programmer a year or so ago when I recommended he start a blog to inform the rest of the community about the latest enhancements and maintenance activities,
“Every hour I spend playing around on a blog post is an hour I spend away from coding!”
Well, that was helpful – thanks! Instead of getting frustrated and ending the conversation, I should have instead elaborated on the benefits that a developer enjoys when he becomes a user instead of just a developer.
- Higher quality product – you can identify bugs and feature improvements before they become problems for other users.
- Increased credibility – If, as a user, I ask how to upload my photo, guess whose response I’m going to be believe – the guy with an empty profile or the guy who’s been active on the community for the last year?
- Increased “forgive-ability” – Look, we know that these sites will go down occasionally, especially when they’re first being developed. We can deal with that…if we’ve been reading your blog and know that it’s down this Saturday night because you’re installing the new widget we’ve been asking for. If the site goes down and all we get is a 404 error page stating that the site is down for maintenance…again, we’re going to be less than pleased.
- Content Seeding – Clients are always asking, “how are we going to get people to actually work on this site and add content?” Well, before you even launch, if your project team (including developers, community managers, comms people, etc.) actually use the site you’re building, you’ll create a solid base of content before you even start to open it up to more people. Adding to existing content (even if it’s not related) is always easier than creating something new.
- Common Ground – you become a member of the community instead of the guy behind the curtain making changes willy-nilly. You gain trust and respect because they know that you’re dealing with the same issues they are. You’re struggling to access the site on your phone too. You’re not getting the alerts you signed up for either. You’re not able to embed videos correctly. You go through what they go through.
- Greater ownership in the final product – The community becomes YOUR community, not something you’re just developing for a bunch of “users.” You become invested in it and want to make it faster, add new features, win awards, etc. because you’re a part of it.
For all you non-developers out there, would you like your IT staff to be more visible? Would you be interested in learning more about what’s happening under the hood of your Intranet/Enterprise 2.0 platform? What other benefits do you see to getting them more involved?
For you developers, what’s preventing you from getting this involved in the communities/platforms that you’re responsible for creating?