We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

a potpourri of mirth and madness

Weathering the Ubuntu brainstorm

In our first few years, Ubuntu experienced explosive growth, from zero to millions of users. Because Ubuntu is an open project, these people don’t just use Ubuntu, but can see what’s happening next and influence it through suggestions and contributions. The volume of suggestions quickly became unmanageable through ad hoc discussion, because the volume of feedback overwhelmed the relatively few people who were actively developing Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Brainstorm logo

In order to better manage user feedback at this scale, Ubuntu Brainstorm was created in 2008. It’s a collaborative filtering engine which allows anyone to contribute an idea, and have it voted on by others. Since then, it’s been available to Ubuntu developers and leaders as an information source, which has been used in various ways. The top ideas are printed in the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter each week. We experimented with producing a report each release cycle and sharing it with the developer community. People have been encouraged to take these suggestions to the Ubuntu Developer Summits. We continue to look for new and better ways to process the feedback provided by the user community.

Most recently, I asked my colleagues on the Ubuntu Technical Board in a meeting whether we should take responsibility for responding to the feedback available in Ubuntu Brainstorm. They agreed that this was worth exploring, and I put forward a proposal for how it might work. The proposal was unanimously accepted at a later meeting, and I’m working on the first feedback cycle now.

In short, the Technical Board will ensure that, every three months, the highest voted topics on Ubuntu Brainstorm receive an official response from the Ubuntu project. The Technical Board won’t respond to all of them personally, but will identify subject matter experts within the project, ask them to write a short response, and compile these responses for publication.

My hope is that this approach will bring more visibility to common user concerns, help users understand what we’re doing with their feedback, and generally improve transparency in Ubuntu. We’ve already selected the topics for the first iteration based on the most popular items of the past six months, and are organizing responses now. Please visit brainstorm.ubuntu.com and cast your votes for next time!

Written by Matt Zimmerman

November 3, 2010 at 11:55

17 Responses

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  1. “In short, the Technical Board will ensure that, every three months, the highest voted topics on Ubuntu Brainstorm receive an official response from the Ubuntu project.”

    highest 10? highest 20? :)


    November 3, 2010 at 12:42

    • We’re starting with the top 10 from the 6-month list, and will fine-tune the selection and response process as we go, based on what works best.

      Matt Zimmerman

      November 3, 2010 at 12:50

      • “The Technical Board won’t respond to all of them personally, but will identify subject matter experts within the project, ask them to write a short response, and compile these responses for publication.”

        If there are only 10 ideas I hope there will also be a post in idea itself like posting a link to publication. Or beside publish them in publication it could also be posted in each idea. This would not take too much time, if having only 10 ideas. You know probably people that are voting and writing ideas may not see publication at all, but would notice that some official response was made.


        November 3, 2010 at 16:26

  2. That’s really great!


    November 3, 2010 at 12:59

  3. Great write-up! Just signed up and wondered why it’s using launchpad auth? I saw it was in the QA universe but curious. Also, “Are you requesting a new package to be included in Ubuntu?” might scare off the average user. Not everyone knows what that is. ;)

    Jessica Ledbetter

    November 3, 2010 at 14:29

  4. Why not integrate Brainstorm with Launchpad in such a way that the best ideas would be seen in Launchpad in separate tab beside: Overview, Code, Bugs, Blueprints, Translations, Answers and IDEAS. Many times I have had read on Launchpad bug reports that instead of filing a bug user should file a idea at Brainstorm. In such a way user see this as a waste of time. To write some idea at separate service like Launchpad and probably no developer will notice because they will forget to check it there. If brainstorm is integrated into Launchpad and people could vote inside Launchpad (separate tab Ideas) this would bring another layer of people to participate in development of project. Most of the people that write ideas are end-users that use the program, but don’t have skills to change the code.

    It would also bi nice if bug report could be converted to idea (voting) and vice-versa, to have idea to be converted into bug report. I have read several posts in Brainstorm, like: “You should report a bug in Launchpad.” But do you really think end-users know how to search the Launchpad and report bug to a particular project? Don’t think so.


    November 3, 2010 at 16:33

    • I second this idea. In engineering terms, we need to “close the loop”. It is quite useful to apply feedback directly into a system, and Brainstorm is one such signal. It’s currently only weakly coupled. (The technical board reviews are a good step in improving that, but highly manual.)

      Additionally, if we integrate into Launchpad the great idea contributors can be rewarded with karma, consistent with Ubuntu’s meritocracy approach.

      Finally, the absolute best ideas can flow naturally into Blueprints.


      November 3, 2010 at 17:22

    • Hey Jack,

      We’ve currently got some half-formed plans on doing roughly that. You might want to check out https://dev.launchpad.net/IssueTracker.


      Jonathan Lange

      November 11, 2010 at 14:39

  5. This is great to hear as I was starting to think Ubuntu Brainstorm was going down the path of “uselessness.” I’ve stopped using Brainstorm because I felt like the suggestions weren’t really taken seriously. It seemed like Canonical would take their own route with Ubuntu and the *maybe* look at the brainstorm to see what ideas fit what they were doing. The Ubuntu Software Center comes to mind first where the developer searched brainstorm for all idea related to the Software Center.
    I think it would be great if there was a release cycle or a project like Paper Cuts that would deal strictly with the Brainstorm ideas and implement the top 10 or so ideas each cycle. If the idea doesn’t work then close it out and move to the next one. As far as users are concerned commenting on an idea is nice, but implementation is was really matters.

    Eric Pritchett

    November 3, 2010 at 16:39

  6. Thanks Matt for moving this forward. I’m happy to see Brainstorm regain the spotlight.


    November 3, 2010 at 17:15

  7. […] facile associare le due cose. L’ultima dimostrazione di tutto questo e’ la scelta di dare una risposta ufficiale alle domande piu’ votate di ubuntu braistorm: “…il Comitato Tecnico farà in modo […]

  8. Excellent idea!


    November 6, 2010 at 00:36

  9. […] a more central role in Ubuntu, looking after concerns which affect the project as a whole, such as transparency and development processes. I’m also re-joining Debian as a non-uploading contributor, to work […]

  10. […] and developers and community members vote and comment on the idea. As part of an initiative to increase the visibility of the highest rated ideas and speed their progress into the distribution, I’ve been asked to post my thoughts on an […]

  11. […] few months ago, Matt Zimmerman kicked offa new tradition of a quarterly review of the most popular Ubuntu Brainstorm ideas. He did the […]

  12. […] time for another round on the Ubuntu Technical Board’s review of the top ranked items on Ubuntu Brainstorm. This time I’m reviewing a brainstorm about a Unity Lens for contacts, […]

  13. […] as donatello suggests, Ubuntu Brainstorm is the right place. The Ubuntu Technical Board will now be providing responses to ideas […]

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