I’ve heard the word “brutal” used more than once during conversations with Autodesk employees about the Autodesk sponsored discussion groups. It’s true that raw unfiltered feedback can be brutal, and it can also hurt your ego if you happen to be the target of criticism. The trick is to learn how to interpret the feedback. If you can master that skill, that raw feedback is a fast, unbiased, low noise-to-signal-ratio predictor of the future.

I’ve seen many recognizable Autodesk names come and go since the days of Autodesk’s original online discussion group, the CompuServe ACAD forum. Oftentimes, they came espousing the virtues of such a vibrant community, only to wilt away after they got singed a few times in the inevitable flame wars. Some Autodesk names (Art Cooney comes to mind) have been around forever, and still take it all in stride. Personally, I view the discussion groups as one of Autodesk’s biggest competitive advantages, even while they go largely untapped.

This week saw too issues erupt into what could fairly be termed brutal feedback. The first was caused by the Autodesk University registration site failing under the load of opening day registration. Several threads (“Dear Carl Bass” and “AU2007 Registration is now open!!!”) called Autodesk to the carpet for blowing it again, after a similar fiasco in 2006.

The second event occurred when AutoCAD product manager Eric Stover announced a new “bonus” tool called CommandComplete. I pity the poor guy or gal that wrote this tool (on their own time, I’m sure), all excited to see how it is received, only to become the victim of a flame war. Okay, not really a flame war in this case because Eric employed his finely tuned flame retardant diplomacy skills to prevent it from getting out of hand — so let’s just call it a “venomous reaction”.

There is a moral to this story. Some companies would kill to have access to this kind of critical, unfiltered, instantaneous feedback from the unwashed masses. I hope Autodesk recognizes the goose that lays the golden egg.

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