How does the Discourse team do usability testing?

I came across this excellent article on how to do low-fi usability testing by @codinghorror. Usability testing (and user testing in general) is something I’d really like to improve, so I appreciate hearing examples of how people do it.

So, does the Discourse team have a process for usability testing? Say, for example, when developing Discourse for Teams, or any other Discourse feature?

5 Likes

I believe this other excellent post by Jeff covers your question.

6 Likes

Thanks! That is a great article. I especially like this insight:

Have your team and yourself start using that minimum viable product, every day, all day long. This is way more than mere software development: it’s your whole life.

The part that I haven’t found as much advice on is how/where to find those early testers (for your discourse forum, for your app, etc.). The article touches on it, but I think there’s a lot more to be said. Do people have go-to strategies for this?


Here’s the issue I see on the advice that’s normally given re finding your first testers/customers:

Michael Seibel from Y Combinator has a good video about finding your first ten customers, but even he doesn’t really get at a process for finding those first testers/users/customers. Seems like he is assuming you already have a process for getting people who want to try out what you’ve got, and then you can pick and choose among them. The question remains: how do you find those people?

A lot of folks reply, I think, with one of two answers:

1 Just ask your friends and family. The issue here is that your product might solve a real problem, but not a problem that your friends and family have. For example, Michael Seibel in the above video talks about finding the “right” early customers–those that have the problem you’re trying to solve, and are willing to pay for it. A lot of the time, your friends and family will not fit into that group.

Additionally, your friends and family might be nice to you and give a crappy early version of your product a try, but that’s different than having them also test version 2, 3, and 4. That’s starting to ask a lot, unless indeed your friends and family are the “right” customers (which, like I said, is very often not the case).

2 Already be in groups/networks of people who could be the “right” customers/testers. The idea (I think Michael Seibel has this perspective too) is that you should already be active in the community (ies) you want to serve. In theory, this makes sense. The internet helps a lot here, because there are a lot of communities on specific topics out there. Other discourse forums, reddit, hackernews, discord, meetups, and more. So you could be an active member of these. Or, you could be an active member of groups IRL, like different professional groups or groups that meet at conventions.

This advice also has its issues, though. First, if you happen not to be an active member already, this advice is saying that you’re going to have to spend some time to become an active member–and this goes against moving fast on your product, because it is pushing off the time you could be testing your product.

Second, asking people in those groups to try your stuff might go against the culture of the group, so there’s a limit to how much you want to ask people to try things out.


There are two other less common pieces of advice I’ve seen on this:

(i) Use sites where you can pay to have software testers. These might be ok for finding bugs, but they can be expensive and they are unlikely to offer testers who are in the ballpark of the users/customers you’re aiming to serve.

(ii) Get out into the real world, and courageously approach random people to ask them to try your stuff (and maybe offer them a gift card or something for doing it). That actually might be the least flawed advice of the ones I’ve mentioned, because getting out in the real world is often a good thing to do. But that still is, honestly, difficult to do (especially if you don’t live in a city). And obviously with Covid its even harder.


Does anyone have strategies that have worked for them?

2 Likes

We did select a few partners to launch Discourse with, and it’s documented in our blog early posts.

Here is one: Our Second Partner: Boing Boing

5 Likes

That is helpful. So Discourse targeted having 3 sites to launch with:

That advice might be, then: Find (or build for) a few early customers who you think would be great fits for your product, and reach out to them directly.

Interested to hear if others have other strategies too, or more examples of this one.

4 Likes