How it all started…
About three weeks ago, a user over on the Tesla Motors Club forum created a very innocuous thread called “Vote on software features/bugs to fix in 7.1 and beyond”. There was already frustration among some owners that Elon’s tweet, just a week earlier, to invite responses to a similar question, would just get lost in the noise that is inherently Twitter. The majority of owners have always wanted to contribute in software suggestions since not only does it make the experience better for everyone, it’s also a big way to make the car more your own.
What esthetic and functionality improvements would you like to see in the 7.1 UI overhaul? Or new features entirely?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 21, 2015
You see, to date, there really hasn’t been an active solicitation from Tesla to its owner-base to contribute to the ideas that make it into the next software releases. Sure, you can email service and request something be added, but does that really do anything? Most owners would say “no” since there isn’t any active (or otherwise) feedback from Tesla on if that suggestion is on their software development radar. The one exception that could be argued is the rear-camera backup lines that did eventually make it in 2.5 years later. So for a lot of us, we took the invitation behind the tweet to be a first-of-its-kind open door to do something more than just spouting off 140 characters of randomness into the ether; but where to start?
Enter the aforementioned thread on TMC. A user named Korben went on the popular brainstorming site, Tricider, and got to work. He proceeded to create six areas of interest with regards to Model S and its various parts.
Battery & Charging
Miscellaneous (everything that didn’t fully fit into the other five categories)
After that was done, he invited the users over on TMC to navigate to the site and start entering their own best ideas for 7.1 improvements. One of the strengths of Tricider is to not only vote on the entries, but also create a dialog in which to argue the merits of each one. Arguments for/against have the ability to sway voting and hopefully, the end result is a well fleshed out idea that has serious interest from the owner-base. As Korben commented,
“I do this because I have been through the wringer and feel like this is help they would appreciate. It is really tough being successful and having so many demands and detractors…” and continuing further on, “…Building a method to keep a good handle on what the community wants and helping to do some product management seems like the best help I can render. I love my car and the ideas that Tesla brings to the world.” -Korben
Having been a Model S owner for just over a year, I myself have been slowly compiling a list of suggestions ever since before I ordered, yet no idea who to tell them to. Within 3hrs, I had my list of 48 items entered into the proper sections alongside Korben’s entries and now all I had to do was wait. By bedtime, half of my items had votes and within 24hrs, most of the rest did as well! Fueled by the encouraging response and seeing others were putting their great ideas in for me to vote/comment on, I attempted to cross-promote the thread both on /r/teslamotors and the teslamotors.com forums. The ideas and the votes just kept steadily coming in and now here we are 3 weeks later with some exciting results to share not only with owners/fans, but also Elon and the rest of Tesla.
Firmware 7.1 Feature Suggestions
Media Player | Autopilot | Battery & Charging
Navigation | User Interface | Miscellaneous
There is an open invitation to check out the raw data posted on the original thread, along with links to the closed polls. The thread itself has been viewed nearly 10k times prior to this article. Once we sanitize the data, merge the duplicates, and isolate out the suggestions that require hardware, we’d like to post the interpreted results in a second article. But for now, draw some of your own conclusions.
You are looking at the contribution of almost 300 people casting just under 4,000 votes in only a couple of weeks. Not every person who voted contributed an original idea, nor did they need to. But there are still over 200+ suggestions after the dust settled. Some would cater to a very small subset, while others would affect every driver in the fleet. The sheer interest alone tells us that Model S owners still feel passionately enough to take the time to contribute but also feel Tesla has a lot of opportunity to make the car even better.
But what is Tesla going to do about it?
We knew from the very start that no matter how much data we collected or work we put into the interpretation of the results, the biggest question out of all of this was still, “Why should Tesla care what we are doing?”
Well, here are the simple facts. There is an implied and stated responsibility from Tesla from the beginning that through software improvements, they want to make the car better for owners as time goes on. And while this process has historically been slow and even sparse at times, Tesla is keeping that promise by continuing those software improvements. All we are asking is to help in being a more active part of that. More importantly though for Tesla, is that owners are the only true marketing arm for them currently.
By actively listening to customer feedback and helping owner’s feel like they have a connection to new features they’ve actually requested, helps keep us enchanted with the car and evangelistic to others. Look at the success of the referral program. You wouldn’t suggest a Model S to someone unless you really liked it yourself. Along those same lines, software features have the ability to make or break sales for potential owners. Tesla needs to not only include the useful features other manufacturers have brought to market first, but also have a unique feature set that is necessary in setting them apart and beyond from competitors. Autopilot in its current advanced form is admittedly a huge part of that. Now we need to address the little things that will continue that momentum.
But listen, we are still under no delusions that Tesla even cares about this project once they see the results. However, Korben’s experience in software development tells him that having a site like this can be hugely useful when you have a dev team you are trying to prioritize resources with. We believed that Elon’s tweet was motivated in part, by the fact that Autopilot had been released full scale and now there might be some time available to knock out a lot of loose ends for the feature set and the interface.
However, as Korben stated, there is a lot of noise on Twitter and these ideas are VERY close to us as owners. Releasing them out into the noise of Twitter seemed like a waste. Especially once we heard that someone was tweeting they wanted a one-press pizza ordering button on the touchscreen. I mean, we need rain-sensing auto-closing sunroof way before we need one-touch pizza ordering buttons, right?
So… now what?
Now that we have realized that there are some legitimate ideas and people are actually having dialogue on the pros/cons of them, we talked about how we are going to get this info in front of people that matter. The first step is trying to garner as much attention as possible for owners to investigate and see if these results line up with what they are thinking. If that’s the case, the dialogue that ensues will reflect that. Tesla does monitor social media in general, but they heavily monitor Tesla-centered websites and especially TMC. All we’d like, as those who took the time to participate, is confirmation that Tesla’s development process is in line with what it seems owner’s actually want. Ostensibly, we’ve done a lot of the exploratory research for them already for ideas they might not have had and confirmed owner interest for those items which may have already been on their list.
And if it turns out in 3-6 months, some of these ideas have trickled into 7.1, then we’d like to knock those things off the list, pat everyone on the back, open up the polls again, and plow forward getting opinions on current ideas still outstanding while infusing some new ideas into the mix. It’s about making the car better for those of us that are owners, but also making the car better for non-owners so that it will be ready when they do join us. Thanks to all who participated in this initial project; the data and the project itself would be nothing without you. And again, stay tuned for the follow-up article here where we will have sanitized the data, merged the duplicates, and isolated out the suggestions that require hardware.
Spoiler: There will be sexy graphs and charts.