Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Issue Tracking for the Real World

Bug trackers are an essential part of software development; I'm not sure how we'd get anything done without them! Yet it seems much of the rest of the world hasn't tuned into their value. It's certainly not that there aren't things to fix in the real world! Perhaps it seems overly complicated. Yet people seem to be able to figure out how to use, say, Foursquare.

Working at Mozilla I was particularly taken by Bugzilla, and what a difference it makes. Not the software specifically, and certainly not the UI, which is in fact extremely complicated. The thing I was struck with is how anyone could come in and contribute, whether it be a bug report, a better set of reproduction steps, suggested strategies for fixing, actual patches, etc.

I want this for the whole world. I want to be able to file a bug report for a pothole, or a piece of bad legislature. I want to be able to file a feature request for a new park, or a light rail stop.

Once the report is filed, it needs to be easy to connect problems with people who have solutions, and it needs to be possible to take ownership of an issue. The bug report then becomes a record of the progress, the discussion, setbacks, etc. If you wonder why things are the way they are, you can read the paper trail.

In this way we create a marketplace of problems and solutions, and we make it easier to shed light on  what's needed to fix things. By opening it up to the world, we can encourage people to get involved and take action.

This seems like something that could be cobbled together with various tools that exist (you know, Ushahidi meets Get Satisfaction meets the Portland Reporter meets Bugzilla), but ultimately I don't think that would be good enough. For people to actually use it, it needs to be clear, clean, and easy, focused on this specific problem space. For that reason, I think it has to be built.

So, I'm going to get started on it… anyone want to help?

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