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.