The importance of timing to feedback

Short feedback cycles are important.

If you edit in openstreetmap you pretty much instantly see your data up there. You can download it again, as can others. It’s instantly integrated. Some things lag a little, you may have to wait a minute for the tiles to be rerendered correctly and maybe your browser cache needs a flush, but we’re about there.

When you have a short feedback cycle, it means that your users get a little drop of serotonin. That makes them happy. It’s simple action and reaction. You get frustrated with your phone when it freezes momentarily because you’re losing the feedback you expect. When you get feedback in a creative process like making a map it makes you want to map more. It’s addictive.

Consider then the antithesis. I just got an email from Wolfram Alpha, a very fun site, about feedback I gave about a year ago.

Google Maps is similar. If you click the little ‘report problem’ button then you might get an email in 3-6 months that it’s been fixed. Perhaps that’s why Google has recently decided to hire 300 people – to close that loop a bit.

I say that’s dumb. Get the hell out of my way. I don’t need an appointed faceless employee somewhere to tell me what a good job I did 3 months after I did it. That falls on deaf ears if for no other reason than I’ve totally forgotten about it. Of course, if I get feedback quickly from a real human being then that can be very powerful.

Mahalo does this. Or at least used to. If you sign up then multiple hip, perky 20-somethings will ‘friend’ you very quickly and tell you how to get more involved. That comes across as either automated (and thus fake) and too much too soon (and thus fake).

So you need a balance in terms of timing, depth and breadth of feedback.

Waze and Google MapMaker introduce a few layers to try and help. Instead of submitting to an anonymous employee, you submit to a faintly anonymous area manager. This sidesteps the cost issue but not really the feedback issue. They take just as long to respond and don’t have the same incentive to be nice to you that an employee might.

5 thoughts on “The importance of timing to feedback

  1. guerda

    Nice post, I can only agree with you, Steve. But why don’t we add a report button on the OpenStreetMap homepage? It could connect to OpenStreetBugs. It would be an advantage for OSM.We can give feedback, so let’s do this!

  2. Max

    Kinda funny that you mention feedback. Not that I don’t agree pretty much with everything you said, but for instance the OSM page at uservoice looks all but abandoned – as if someone set it up once and never returned to check on it or heed any of it (guerda’s idea seems to be on it too, btw.). I guess there’s feedback and then there’s… feedback, some more equal than the rest.

  3. Steve Coast

    Those are both things I’ve tried out on talk@ multiple times and just been shot down. We need a change in attitude as much as a change in technology to get this stuff to happen.

  4. guerda

    That’s very strange, because every company or community should know, how refreshing the user’s feedback is.I will discuss this on the talk-de list, propably, there’s a different opinion out there. Hopefully!

  5. amm

    @guerda. There were attempts of getting a report a problem onto the main page. ( source at;a=shortlog;h=refs/heads/openstreetbugs) . Also as far as I am aware, all the admins would be very happy with integrating something like openstreetbugs into the main page. However someone needs to actually code it and that is where it so far has always broken down. The above links point to a start of an attempt, but more work is needed and I currently don’t have the time to do it my self. But if someone would pick up those ends, I think we could have a system of reporting bugs working reasonably soon. It just needs to be coded.

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