Developers certainly use developer programs from the platform vendors, almost half of them dropping by daily, but when they’ve got specific questions they value third-party sites, populated by their peers, more than the official channels.
That’s a key conclusion from VisionMobile’s 9th Developer Economics survey – a biannual event which gathers data from more than ten thousand developers around the world. That survey yields a whole load of demographic and procedural data, including how (and why) developers make use of developer programs. That information has been gathered together into Developer Program Benchmarking 2015.
Along with rankings for 15 of the most-popular developer programs the report looks at what developers value most, and where they think there is room for improvement. One of the most-interesting findings is the support for third-party forums over and above those provided by the platform vendors.
Neither topped the list of importance: documentation and example code were, unsurprisingly, the things that developers wanted most from a developer program. IDE integration came next, but directly below those three was support on public forums such as Stack Overflow and Instructables. That puts third-party forums two ranks above those devoted to a specific platform or technology, and hosted by the platform vendors.
Those dedicated forums were cited by 20% of mobile developers, and 24% of desktop developers, as being in their top-three desired features. Well short of the 31% (mobile) and 30% (desktop) who put third party sites into that category. Peer support is obviously important – Stack Overflow has become the primary source of developer Q&A in recent years, claiming more than 16 million solutions provided and 8 million developers using the site every day; a significant proportion of the total developer population estimated at 18 million. Github – recently valued at $2bn by the Wall Street Journal – hosts repositories for Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, while Intel works closely with Instructables.
With that in mind it’s less surprising to see that the four companies rated best for their involvement in third-party sites are the same four who rated best overall for services offered to developers. The commitment in reaching out to developers is reflected in the services provided to developers who come calling.
But why do developers eschew official channels to such an extent? In part it is lack of trust, born of a cynicism endemic to the younger generation which makes up the majority of developers. There is a feeling that official channels won’t host comments, or responses, critical of the vendor’s products or services – though there is no evidence that this is the case, and vendors are quick to provide examples which contradict this view. Perhaps more important is the way in which modern developers work across platforms, and are often looking for support which will help them work with competitive products.
A developer working on an Android app, for example, may want advice on integrating that application with Amazon’s cloud service, and IBM’s equivalent, so will look for support on a third-party site where developers may have experience they can share. Those posting also feel a freedom to discuss the merits of competitive platforms, such as the payment systems available through Google and Amazon’s respective application stores, where support on either vendor’s site may be more focused on their own product range.
This perception is largely false, as vendors’ forums host a wide variety of discussions, but the effect remains pervasive. Developer Programs which rated highly all invest in third-party sites, providing staff to answer questions and ensuring that their agenda is represented in every discussion. As applications continue to expand across platforms – taking in cloud services and IoT resources – so developers will increasingly look beyond hosted forums to community sites like Stack Overflow and Instructables: a trend that developer programs will have to follow if they wish to stay relevant in an evolving industry.