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How we build our products and how you can help

by Will Morgenweck on 11 Jan 2011 10:46 PM

Recently a customer accused me of building Active Forums, Active Social and Active Purchase to meet our own needs and not the needs of our customers.  I say accused because I took great offense to that comment.  While most people might say it really isn't that big of a deal, it is to me and should be to you.  Allow me to explain why.  

When I go to DotNetNuke events I try to talk with as many people as possible.  I always like to hear about how people are using DotNetNuke and the solutions they have built.  I also spend a great deal of time talking to other developers that sell modules.  Usually I will ask how they got started.  The most common story is that they have a business building sites and either built the module for a customer or built a module they use over and over again as part of their normal site build.  I also know of modules on Snowcovered  that a developer may have built during his 9-5 job and decided to package it and make a few extra bucks on the side.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with either approach, but I wanted to share what makes Active Modules different.  

I've been building websites since 1995.  By the time I started Active Modules in 2004 I had built over 250 commercial websites, all using some kind of Microsoft web technology.  I was burned out and wanted to do something different or at least make my life easier.   I started using iBuySpy, then DotNetNuke and was actually building my own community framework on the side.  I became addicted to DotNetNuke and started converting my custom forum application into a DotNetNuke module.  However, I also saw an opportunity in the DotNetNuke market.  There were two forum modules available for DotNetNuke.  One module was free and open source, but wasn't really supported.  Another was a wrapper for the free (at the time) ASP.NET forums.  That module wasn't free, but also wasn't maintained like customers were wanting.  I spent several months building Active Forums and watching the DotNetNuke community.  I was a "lurker" on many forums doing nothing more than absorbing what users were saying.  I didn't limit myself to DotNetNuke related forums either.  Any forum product that had a customer forum was part of my daily reading, which is still the case today.  At that time, I also managed a couple of my own communities where I was able to test and gather feedback on my forum module while I was waiting for the right time to start selling my product.  

As I mentioned, DotNetNuke already had a couple forum modules available and one was even a top seller on Snowcovered.  However, DotNetNuke was working on a major 2.x release that was going to introduce several breaking changes for modules.  I was seeing that there were quite a few DotNetNuke users that were waiting for this next big release to build their site.  I could also see that some of those same users were also wondering if the existing forum modules would be compatible.  Both modules would need an update and there was very little information about when an update would be available.  I released NTForums (the first version of Active Forums) just after DotNetNuke announced their new release.  Those users looking to use the latest version of DotNetNuke and needed a forum solution chose Active Modules.  

At that time, the price was $19.95 and if I could sell a couple modules a month I was happy.  I had no idea what to expect, but I did map out some goals along with a timeline just in case this little forum module did take off.   I also had a vision of how my software company would operate if it ever became my full-time job.  Building Active Forums became my full-time job in January 2006 and my original vision is still how we operate today.  

Add features based upon customer feedback, that provide additional value to the majority of our customers.

Add features to remain competitive only if they make sense and value to the majority of our customers.  

Listen to all customers on how we can make the product better and adapt the product in ways that make sense for everyone.

Focus on product development and not one-off customizations.

Frequent questions mean something needs to change or be improved.  

Ship the product when it's ready, not by the calendar.  

Try to keep all customers satisfied, but not at the risk of jeopardizing the majority or compromising the product vision.
 

At times you may see some features on our site that haven't been released or that we are testing, but very rarely is something we wanted specific for us.  Never once have I added a feature to any of our products with out some kind of external approval or validation.  Don't get me wrong, I like to think I'm a pretty smart guy, but I also like to find out what other people think before I spend hours writing code.

How can you help?
Hopefully if you've read this far you ready to go a little further.  Now that I've explained our process hopefully you can see how we can't continue to grow the product without your feedback.  We need your feedback!  We need to know what we can do to help you.  We need to know what you think would make the product better for your users.  We need to know what works well and what doesn't.  We need your opinion on feedback from other users.  We need your help for the product to grow and continue to improve. We aren't building products for us, we are building them for you.

How can you give us feedback?
Each product now has a forum setup specifically for capturing feedback.  All you need to do is go to the appropriate forum, click the New Topic button, enter a brief description for the subject.  You will immediately see that we want to structure the type of feedback based upon Something you love, Something you want, Something you hate, Something you deal with.  The most important part is what you provide in the body of the topic.  The more information about the particular use case, experience or scenario the better.  It also helps if you share your perspective.  You don't have to share everything about your site, but maybe give a little detail about the target audience of your site.  If you are telling us something you love, we'll settle for one sentence.  You don't even have to create a topic.  Simply replying to existing feedback is extremely helpful as well.  We hope to add a few other options for ranking feedback when we start testing Active Forums 4.4 next week.  

I have always liked writing code, but there is nothing more rewarding as a developer than building something has value to other people.  Customer feedback is what keeps us going.  

    18 Comments for How we build our products and how you can help

    Clint
    Clint
    11 Jan 2011 10:59 PM

    Will, It was interesting to read your approach to building modules and it makes me respect your organization even more. I can tell you without a doubt that your active forum module has helped add a great deal of value to our web site and online community. Regards, Clint Patterson
    Jeff Blanks
    Jeff Blanks
    11 Jan 2011 11:26 PM

    I was a "lurker" on many forums doing nothing more than absorbing what users were saying. I didn't limit myself to DotNetNuke related forums either.


    I love that part "lurker"! Describes me too well with how I've been handling my current project, and the amount of time I've spent on it. There is a lot to be learned when exploring other sites and their users, to see what works well and what doesn't.

    Enjoyed the reading along with the walk back in time with your company. Inspirational when I look at the road I have ahead of me.
    NFXBeats
    NFXBeats
    12 Jan 2011 03:50 PM

    I'm at least one (if not THE one) that accused you of this. I'm not ashamed that I did it either.

    It's great you are seeking more input from your users. I think it's a great thing.

    I think you need to open up the community more to show that you are serious about "feedback". I say this as a person who has been (and is of this writing) moderated because of my "feedback".

    When you control the inflow of posts by weeding out the ones you think will cause people to rally against you or perhaps spin a negative light on things, you are indeed shaping the future of your product to YOUR views.

    For example, if you don't like when I suggest that Feature X is really a bug, you don't allow it to be seen and discussed by others so you can see what your customers really think.

    I hope you allow those of us who are passionate about AF/AS and willing to make a little noise to be seen and heard in an unmoderated state. If we didn't care about the product we would just go away.
    Will Morgenweck
    Will Morgenweck
    12 Jan 2011 05:23 PM
    www.activemodules.com
    I think you need to open up the community more to show that you are serious about "feedback". I say this as a person who has been (and is of this writing) moderated because of my "feedback".

    Customers are trusted by default which means forums aren't moderated for everyone.

    When you control the inflow of posts by weeding out the ones you think will cause people to rally against you or perhaps spin a negative light on things, you are indeed shaping the future of your product to YOUR views.

    We haven't weeded anything out. The only posts of your's that weren't approved were the comments that you kept making over and over again about not jumping to the last post of a reply.

    For example, if you don't like when I suggest that Feature X is really a bug, you don't allow it to be seen and discussed by others so you can see what your customers really think.

    Show me where I said it was a feature. I never once said it was feature, I said it was intended design when using vanity urls and that it would be changed in an upcoming release.

    I hope you allow those of us who are passionate about AF/AS and willing to make a little noise to be seen and heard in an unmoderated state. If we didn't care about the product we would just go away.

    I have no problem with a little noise. I have no problem with negative feedback. People that make a little noise don't get moderated.

    Cliff Hammock
    Cliff Hammock
    12 Jan 2011 05:35 PM

    Posted By Will Morgenweck on 11 Jan 2011
    Customers are trusted by default which means forums aren't moderated for everyone.   
    Just wanted to throw in that I have been an NTForums / AF for about six years now and I am getting moderated on every post.

    NFXBeats
    NFXBeats
    12 Jan 2011 05:35 PM

    Show me where I said it was a feature. I never once said it was feature, I said it was intended design when using vanity urls and that it would be changed in an upcoming release.


    Note to self... "Intended Design" != "Feature". OK, my mistake.

    Do you really want to bring this all up again?

    When I posted it during the beta, it was ignored. When I posted it later it was "Intended Design". When someone else posted it it was ignored so I replied in support of that person. On multiple occasion you did not allow my reply messages to someone else thread. I think on that thread I tried to reply twice.

    Honestly if thats intended design, thats a ridiculous feature.. errr design decision. In my OPINION.

    This is what I mean about you needing to be more open. Don't be afraid of criticism. It will make your product better and if I am an over zealous nut case, people will see that over time and be smart enough to judge me accordingly.
    Will Morgenweck
    Will Morgenweck
    12 Jan 2011 05:44 PM
    www.activemodules.com
    Do you really want to bring this all up again?

    Not at all. It's a huge waste of time, which is why I didn't bring it back up.


    Will Morgenweck
    Will Morgenweck
    12 Jan 2011 05:45 PM
    www.activemodules.com
    Just wanted to throw in that I have been an NTForums / AF for about six years now and I am getting moderated on every post.

    Sorry Cliff, not sure why you were set to moderated but it has been changed now.
    mmoney
    mmoney
    12 Jan 2011 08:18 PM

    While we're on the subject of moderation. I have to ask the question - what sort of things cause a user to be moderated. I'm still at a loss to know why I'm moderated. I've PMed the admin team to clarify this but my question goes unanswered. I must tell you if you are looking for feedback that as a paying customer, being labeled as "untrusted" is hugely insulting - especially when no one takes the time to inform a given user when and how they broke the rules. I would think that in most cases it was an accidental violation not to be repeated when the rules are made known.

    I'm a big fan of activemodules modules. I like the design, the logic of the structure and the features that are added. I think the team here does a great job from the technical side. However, having said that, there are some strange aspects to the forums here. There are some unwritten rules that you only find out after a great deal of frustration. Things like posts aren't answered if the answer is 'no'. I've never experienced that before. But if there is an open forum for discussing feedback, I for one would welcome it.
    Frozen DNN
    Frozen DNN
    12 Jan 2011 08:19 PM

    I am a member since 2007 and let's see whether I am moderated.
    Frozen DNN
    Frozen DNN
    12 Jan 2011 08:20 PM

    Yes, I am! And, I am not even a trouble maker. Or am I?
    Will Morgenweck
    Will Morgenweck
    12 Jan 2011 08:53 PM
    www.activemodules.com
    My next blog post was actually going to be about how we moderate our forums and why. Give me another hour or two and it will be available. mmoney and frozen dnn, you shouldn't have any problems posting now.
    Duane
    Duane
    12 Jan 2011 10:12 PM

    My next blog post was actually going to be about how we moderate our forums and why. Give me another hour or two and it will be available.


    Now that blog will be good reading!!!

    Not to hurt my feeling but I had to copy and paste to quote you Will am I missing a button to quote directly from your post?

    Hope to have time next week to share my feedback when I get back from San Antonio if not soon afterwords.

    Thanks for your hard work!
    drew curry
    drew curry
    13 Jan 2011 09:30 AM

    moderated as well, as well as being the proud owner of *many* posts that disappeared into the ether. Sorry if this thread is turning away from the intended direction Will, but there are many frustrated people who just want to help.
    Will Morgenweck
    Will Morgenweck
    13 Jan 2011 09:37 AM
    www.activemodules.com
    You might want read my latest blog post.
    Frozen DNN
    Frozen DNN
    01 Feb 2011 05:37 PM

    I am being moderated again! What did I do?
    Will Morgenweck
    Will Morgenweck
    01 Feb 2011 05:41 PM
    www.activemodules.com
    No you aren't. As I've mentioned before, the support forums are moderated for everyone.
    Frozen DNN
    Frozen DNN
    01 Feb 2011 05:47 PM

    Oh ok. Did not know that. Sorry.
    test
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