Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Crowdsourcing as a software development tool

With the recent release of DocuScan Plus, the product development team would like to share with the community what we believe to be a new and exciting method of developing assistive technology. We feel that this tool is especially useful when developing assistive technology because of the unique challenges involved with creating this type of software. Assistive technology, unlike some other types of software, must be simultaneously easy enough for brand new computer user's to use, yet powerful enough to satisfy the needs of those with long term experience as well. In addition, developing a product that is so essential to so many people means that great care must be taken in every step of the design process.

How software is traditionally developed

The traditional method of software development is for a design team to generate specifications for a software product. After mapping as much of the product out as possible, including features, UI (which stands for user interface and defines how a user interacts with the software,) the overall capabilities of the software, pipe dreams, Et cetera, the design team hands these requirements off to the programmers. From this point forward, the programmers write the code using these specifications to construct the product. Once the programmers have completed their initial work, the product enters the "Alpha test phase", during which the product design team tests the software. If needed, they ask the programmers to make changes. Once Alpha testing is complete, potential end users are invited to play with the product. This phase is most commonly refered to as a beta test. Yet, at this stage, the feature set, software capabilities, user interface, Et cetera, is mostly frozen and very few, if any changes to these areas are made. Most of the time beta testing is used to eliminate bugs only.

The Serotek difference

All of us on the DocuScan Plus development team were very excited about this product. However, we knew that we were only a small segment of the population who would ultimately be using the product. We were determined to make the product as good as it could possibly be, not only for ourselves, but for the audience we wanted to serve. While we all had ideas on what we wanted the product to be, we decided that there was no better way to find out what the ideal document scanning solution should be like than to enlist the help of the people who would use the product the most. To do this, we knew we needed to go beyond the traditional model of software development. So, instead of bringing the users in on the traditional beta testing phase, we brought them in closer to the Alpha testing level.

The community difference

Unlike traditional beta testing, we decided that we would invite current owners of Document Scan to preview the new product. In exchange for their help with the development process, they were offered an introductory upgrade price. Over 20% of existing owners of Document Scan chose to participate in the preview. The interaction we had with this group was nothing short of amazing. We created a discussion forum in which preview users were asked to leave any feedback, ask questions, make suggestions, and report problems. As the development and testing phase moved forward, many of these suggestions were incorporated into the final product. In addition to the forum, weekly voice chats were held in order to allow more direct interaction within our community. Members of the Serotek staff including the lead programmer were present at these chats and in much the same fassion as the forum, these weekly discussions produced outstanding feedback and promoted great interaction both among the preview user's themselves and with the development team directly.

We have no doubt That DocuScan Plus is a far superior product because of the community involvement in the creation of the program. Many of the suggestions and ideas that were refined over the preview period greatly enhanced the usability, feature set, and quality of the end product. The DocuScan Plus team would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the preview users for their outstanding feedback and help making DocuScan Plus what it is today. It is truly remarkable to be part of such an awesome community. It is our hope that this type of software development, with an emphasis on community involvement, will serve as a blueprint to follow for future assistive technology products.

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