The Least You Can Do
What do self-help books, get-rich-in-real-estate courses, and exercise videos have in common?
They all tell you that you can do great things, and all you have to do is just a little bit right now to get started. Usually, that little bit involves buying the book, course, or video.
Here's my version of the little bit that every software company can do with open source software. Today. Right now.
That's it. Easy, isn't it?
From those mailing lists, you can start seeing what questions people ask and what features they want. You can also learn a lot about users' experiences with a product similar to yours, in a way that would be difficult otherwise. Companies like Intuit and Microsoft spend millions to observe their customers in action, down to following them home and watching them install and use their software. Now all you have do to do is watch a mailing list.
In fact, an open source project's mailing list will give you a better view of users than any focus group or intense observation experiment. This is because whenever people are observed, they act differently. They tell you what they want you to hear, not what they really want. On a mailing list, though, people will actively describe their experiences, ask for help, and suggest new features because the mailing lists are the vehicles for doing just that.
Easy, isn't? And who knows? You might even decide to get involved.