One of the big challenges in open source is soliciting meaningful involvement in a project. Most open-source projects get almost no outside involvement, primarily because contributing to an open-source project takes time, familiarity with the code in question (a perpetual thorn in OpenOffice.org's side), and the skill to write meaningful contributions.
More critically, much of the best input to any product, open- or closed-source, would come from average users who provide usability and other input, but this is precisely the sort of person that has no idea how to write software, despite being the likely day-to-day customers of software.
Leave it to Mozilla to figure out a great way to open the door to serious user involvement in its Firefox (and other) open-source browser project with Test Pilot, a new "user-testing program...that aims to build a 1 percent representative sample of the Firefox user base for soliciting wide participation and structured feedback for interface and product experiments."
Test Pilot will start as an easy-to-install Firefox extension but will later be added to other Mozilla projects. Here's how Mozilla sees it working:
The first time the Test Pilot add-on is run, it will ask a few simple non-personally identifiable questions to put you into a demographic bucket, e.g., technical level, locale, etc., and to let you opt in to additional anonymous instrumentation.
We'll only collect aggregate anonymized data, publish all results under open-content licenses, and review every test to make sure that your privacy is held sacred. Once in a while, you may be asked to participate in a short survey based on your demographic. If you've opted into allowing additional anonymous instrumentation, an experiment may request some of that information for aggregated study.
The service is not yet live, but when it does go live, it promises to change the way open-source projects interact, not only with their developer communities but also with their user communities. If Mozilla can successfully gather input from nontechnical, average users, it will have secured the holy grail of computing: deep customer feedback.
What will Mozilla do with that feedback? Why, conquer the world, of course. The best feedback should translate into the best products. Open source is innovating...yet again.