Active Community Leads to Better Software

Time and again, I find myself turning to user forums to get a broad status check of the quality, acceptance, support and vendor commitment associated with software applications and solutions. This is especially true for consumer level software purchases, but can be extended and extrapolated to large coprorate purchases as well. Here, I will discuss what can be readily teased out of consumer level user forums, and allow the reader to extrapolate relevant points farther.

For the uninitiated, most if not all software applications have some form of user group or forum which enables users to discuss, troubleshoot, remedy and sometimes even plan and propose future features for a given application. The more active this community is, the higher the likelihood that the vendor is investing in the product and that the product itself is widely used. Always before droping a dime on a software product, check out the community for some key factors:

1) Is there a community of support, if not, you’ll either be a very early adopter or the software itself is not popular or the acquisition cost is so low that it is viewed as disposable.
2) If there is a community of support, is it vendor hosted and sponsored, or independent or are both scenarios represented?
3) How current are the topics and posts? Up to the minute, hour or day, or was the last post from a year ago?
4) Are responses being posted along with issues, or is knowledge not being built up in the forum? This would be a problem if everyone is posting issues but they are not actively being researched and resolved.
5) Are communities multi-platform or primarily for one OS? This could give a clue about the risk of buying the Mac OS version if the majority of users are Windows based.
6) If there are release notes to an application and the application is being frequently updated, is it obvious that forum issues and troubleshooting are actually finding their way into finished products?

I really could go on and on, needless to say the first thing I do before spending $$ on a consumer level software tools is to dive into the user forums to assess the overall pulse of the solution’s community of support.

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