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Nina's picture
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For a long time now, I have felt that communication between the research team and the players is disappointingly dysfunctional and I wonder why it keeps being so after so many months of open access to the beta version.

The media has on several occasions shown interest in this project and every time there has been a surge in player number, but for some reason many of those curious people never return. Although it doesn't puzzle me as much as some other aspects of the game, I still think there should be more analysis done on why the game doesn't attract to such an extent that the great masses would stay for good. I think one of the main reasons is the lack of information available on the project - in the About section one can still read the same basic, today rather unsatisfactory introduction that has been there since the early months of 2008. The Home section seems to offer news on updates of software, but basically nothing more, and the Videos section still offers the same material that isn't up-to-date as far as for instance tools goes.

To me it is a huge question mark why the homepage needs to go down every time work on software updates or whatever is done (the correct term is unfortunately unknown to me since I'm no computer geek). On those occasions it would be very convenient in the Home section to be able to read when the work is expected to finish, but as it is now all goes blank for an unknown period of time. Especially if it happens during prime folding time, the weekend, this is unbelievable to me.

Is it up to the players to teach newcomers the game by in global chat repeating endlessly what the project is about and why it has such great scientific value even though most of us actually are completely in the dark? And is the Wiki supposed to be the only source of practical information on how to play the game? If the players were familiar with the resources, needs of assistance and wishes of the research team, it would be another situation entirely, but right now few of us know what, when and how to expect both input and output.

In the fora, the response from admin and the rest of the team is rather selective and, unless I'm not completely mistaken, there is a certain pattern to what kind of threads are the trendiest. Many great suggestions have been posted and people aren't writing sour comments solely, but show genuine interest and great creativity, and they keep coming back even after the 100th crash of the day. Some even offer very useful help like dejerpha does in this thread: http://fold.it/portal/node/596477 . To me it seems that the continuously silent research team isn't helping itself at all by not responding to good initiatives, but rather keeps digging an early grave, which is more than unfortunate.

Frustration starts to grow when there is lack of information and understanding. The human being is intelligent and creative, but for some reason she hits a wall when this frustration takes too huge a dimension, after which a previous interest in an ongoing project disappears, sometimes for good. I have participated in research myself and understand the need of keeping results secret as long as they are unpublished in a scientific journal, but the above-described problem areas of the FoldIt project have nothing to do with results from folding and therefore secrecy isn't necessary but in fact harmful.

It is my sincere belief that this project could reach the stars if it were to take another course - one where there is an open dialogue between the two parties, where the needs of both are known to the other and where respect for the work of the other is visible. Practical examples of respect for the players are responses to each of the posts directed at the team in the fora (use a standard answer if time is sparse during more hectic hours, but at least acknowledge the input from a player/volunteer who has gone through trouble on behalf of the project or it will be perceived as extremely arrogant behaviour indeed) and a blog on news from the research team with positive feedback once in a while and updates on how busy the team might be and therefore what help they would like to get from the players. Most of the active players have a genuine interest not only in the project but in science in general and harbour warm feelings towards the beauty of the cellular machinery in living organisms. Even adults need to hear they are doing well, so please don't underestimate the power of positive feedback - the time one invests in keeping people happy will be repaid many times.

Thank you for your time.
Nina

axcho's picture
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Thanks for posting this

Thanks for posting this.

I joined the Foldit team in late September, making me the newest member of our six-person development team. Since then, I've had some time to become familiar with the project and the team - what the current situation is, and how things tend to be done.

Given that, I think I can safely say that any poor communication or inappropriate behavior by the Foldit team has been a result of ignorance rather than malicious intent. I am very sorry that it is has led to such frustration and disillusionment on the part of some of the players here.

When I first started here, I did notice that forum threads were rarely responded to by anyone on the team. I'm the kind of person who likes replying to people on forums, and if I had detected an attitude of yes we are very involved with the forums and the community of Foldit players I think I would have gladly begun racking up a lot of posts here. However, as a newbie both in terms of folding and the Foldit project, I had fewer answers than questions, and assumed that I should follow the example my more experienced teammates. That is, focus on the code, and on the tasks that have already been laid out for us - posting on forums is presumably something to do on our free time. Understand that for the most part, we are all students, and Foldit is but one of the many projects and assignments competing for our attention.

So, please forgive us for our past mistakes. I've noticed a huge number of things about Foldit that are far from ideal since joining this project. Many of those things I plan to address myself, particularly the poor usability and intro levels of the game. [for the curious, my primary inspiration here and here] I also think a huge amount of improvement could be had in the theming of the game, to really convey the story of "what the project is about and why it has such great scientific value". To tell the truth, this story has never even been explained to me, so I'm hoping that I will have the opportunity to talk with someone who is really passionate about the potential for the project so that I may be able to help convey that through the game.

But there's one thing I could start doing right now: I could start acting as designated Foldit forum replyer! How about it - I could add "Foldit Community Manager" to my list of titles. ;)

I know this doesn't solve the problem entirely, but from now on I'll be glad to reply to as many posts in the forum as I can, answering questions if possible and forwarding requests onto the rest of the team. Given how long it takes for Foldit to compile on this computer, I'll probably have plenty of time to spend on the forums. :p

Thoughts?

Nina's picture
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Thank you for your reply. It

Thank you for your reply.

It will make a difference especially if posts in the forum are noticed by the research team and might even increase the amount of creative ideas popping up, because players now know that they will get through to the research team.

Everyone can understand that the budget is limited, but I also think the folding community could be activated a lot more when assistance is needed, so why not take us into account a bit more? Not all projects would be suitable to involve "just anyone" in, but I certainly think the knowledge players are sitting on could be mobilized to a greater extent.

I am aware of the fact that change isn't possible over night, but this is a much appreciated improvement!

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The case tracker which I put

The case tracker which I put in place over the last week was intended to address your concern, Nina. I hope it will give more accountability to the players in a meaningful way.

Cheers,
admin

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Interesting sentiment


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Why do you guys have to

Why do you guys have to poison everything with your meaningless quarrel over nothing? Do it in PM if you really have to. Do not hang the laundry on the street. Self-moderation would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks

Nina's picture
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Thanks, admin, I've already

Thanks, admin, I've already used the case tracker and it seems to be working fine. I especially like the possibility of adjusting priority level.

And as for negative, negative, negative people, go elsewhere already.

Joined: 05/19/2008
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Actually, adding a feedback

Actually, adding a feedback feature to the site solves no problems if there are no responses from the developer team. The problem so far was not that we could not shout, but that no one was listening, let alone responding.

Nina's picture
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Either you, DH, are openly

Either you, DH, are openly questioning my intellectual capabilities by explaining to me the quite obvious or you are shooting daggers at the research team, thereby being unconstructive in a situation where there has already been made visible progress regarding the issue that I brought up in my opening post of this thread.

And as for all players' comments, I started this thread in a constructive way, trying to keep the tone as respectful as possible, and find it most displeasing, hateful even, when others infect and poison as important a discussion as this one, trying to twist it into something else and adding to it with completely irrelevant comments that aren't bringing anything new to the table. Go start a new thread where you can be as seriously negative and shockingly unconstructive as you wish, but don't force me to be a part of it - please stay quiet already, unless you remain respectful and constructive!

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I'd like to stay out of

I'd like to stay out of this, but as a Hungarian like DH, I'll have to get stuck into the negativity so often characteristic of our people.

So to spell it out in unequivocal terms: I think the problem so far has not been our unwillingness to respond to issues but that issues were brought up in a disorganised ad-hoc manner; confusing questions, problems, suggestions and good bug reports into one, often many in one thread, such that they disappeared easily off our radar when newer posts came up; that issues could not be closed in a satisfactory manner; that it wasn't clear who was responsible for things so nobody took responsibility; etc. This case tracker solves all of these issues, and in fact Michael, who is on holiday and has no duty to be using it, has closed a couple of issues on it too. Obviously the success of the case tracker relies on our willingness to be helpful and accountable and inspired by the players, but as I think these things were not missing before, things will improve from now.

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I don't see how this is better

This might be a change, and maybe if change is always for the better, that makes this better.

What I see is that the issues have been moved from the general discussion area, but there is no more information on each one being provided from the project team scientists or coders, nor are the vast majority even assigned to anyone from the project. How is that being more accountable or responsive?

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That typically happens if

That typically happens if it's assigned to a group of coders rather than one specific person. This isn't a guarantee that we'll fix all issues immediately. Rather it gives us priorities to start with and ensures that you can always see what issues are outstanding and haven't been forgotten.

Joined: 05/19/2008
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I think it is a major

I think it is a major problem that the project has net yet noticed after 24 hours that there are comment spams in the forum. So so so pathetic. Call me a Hungarian again.... I am negative, yes, I am.

Joined: 05/30/2008
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@ DisposableHeart

They have deletedseveral of the posts, but they continue to post them after being deleted.

admin's picture
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We used to have a

We used to have a third-party spam Bayesian filter, but it worked poorly so I took it out. I'll re-enable it now.

I've also gone back and deleted spam comments from the site. I found 21 in total, typically hiding in old blog or news entries.

Joined: 12/14/2008
Bugs&Co

I found the Mantis Bugtracker very good.
http://www.mantisbt.org/
You can make projects (e.g. User Interface, website, general bugs...) and assign. What is done can be closed. You can also have public/private issues. As a User (reporter) it's the best I know.

I write this, that you can have a look and because I think it's not a good idea to have bug reports, wishes etc. mixed with questions or general problems.

For the forums: Community-grown mods have proven to be a reliable source for spamkillers and question-answerers.
The last one needs their questions answered first, of course. You cannot explain what no one said to you (and if axcho had not got an explanation...)

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We already have a good

We already have a good feedback tracker.

Joined: 12/14/2008
You may want to keep it or

You may want to keep it or not, but I strongly suggest having a look at what Mantis has. As in folding, several small tweaks can have a great rise in score if combined ;)
At least a splitting option of some kind should be implemented for bugs on current versions, beta versions (whats a beta of a beta? :D), suggestions/wishes and questions.

As a proven bughunter, manual writer and (sort of) game designer I know what I talk of ;)

[OffThread: hmmm... I think I will start an experiment]

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Splitting? We have a

Splitting? We have a category for bugs in the Developer Preview, that should be perfectly enough.

Integrating Mantis or Bugzilla (my personal favourite) to the site's theme and authentication system would be far too much effort for very little gain. Then of course I'd have one more piece of software to monitor on the servers for security updates.

In addition, we have such a general audience that a tracker with a simple interface is much better than one with more details and options. Furthermore, this one is quite extensible enough.

In sum there's absolutely no reason to consider another feedback tracker.

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All the spammers who had

All the spammers who had signed up prior to yesterday's CAPTCHA (earliest was Feb 7) took the opportunity of the loosened spam filter to post. I've re-tightened our spam filter. Again, if the server thinks you're spamming, you have to fill out another captcha.

Joined: 08/05/2008
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Something that might be of note

http://usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?CommunityCopout

I like reading MeatballWiki. This article seemed... shall I say... eerily appropriate?

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Good examples?

Interesting article. :p

I'd be curious to hear some examples of games with good communication between developers and players. It always helps to have a good role model to aspire to. If you could link to some game forums you think are particularly well-managed I'd appreciate it.


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It's been PM'd.

It's been PM'd.

admin's picture
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I think the term Community

I think the term Community Copout isn't applicable to us, as we didn't create any of the vehicles of interaction so that we wouldn't have to interact with the players. However, low resources meant we got to many issues late or never, which combined with the lack of any sort of tracking for posted issues made people think we weren't listening. The feedback tracker has gotten rid of an awful lot of community problems that stemmed directly from our forum software -- it didn't give us more resources, yet it improved the players' role in making the game.

We continue to use the feedback tracker to interact with players about the game's progress, the forums for more general discussion, and we continue to improve the feedback tracker (as when we added voting features). Our blog and developer chats are pretty low-key, but that won't improve much until our resources improve.

There is still a lack of information on many fronts, although the situation is slowly being improved.

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Whoops

I don't know what was intended by that, but I perceive the post (by admin) to have a defensive note. I was commenting that the article seemed to describe what many players thought was the problem with the game, and with the team: a lack of communication, and the creation of more and more vehicles to complain by (though not necessarily be heard through). (I attempted to make a neutral observation, and made a non-neutral one, so evidently I stepped on someone's toes. I apologize if this was perceived, on the dev team's end, to be an attack, as it was not meant that way.)

In any case, though, I wonder if a specified requirement for player interaction (say, five hours a week on-game, in-chat) would solve things? or would it aggravate them, by gaming the system by leaving chat in the background and never responding to it? See, the only way out is accountability. A feedback-tracker is a substantial step forward, if certainly not perfect.

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Thanks for the PM,

Thanks for the PM, orngjce223, I'll check them out in more detail later.

I'm often in the chat while I'm coding, though lately I've been too busy. I find that being in chat can greatly decrease my productivity. :p

However, as far as I know I'm the only developer who regularly goes in chat (other than admin) or for that matter, on the forums, so I agree that there could be a lot of improvement if more developers were encouraged to participate. I guess it is a tradeoff between community involvement and speed of feature implementation.

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Nice one

It appears to apply here as well as just about every BOINC project, and the BOINC development group at UCB as well.

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I'm sorry. I thought you

I'm sorry. I thought you were expressing your opinion about the state of affairs now -- not an unreasonable assumption, I hope. Since I don't think we are a community copout, I naturally enough posted my reasons. Please feel free to express your opinions, fully, without concern for stepping on any toes -- we can't have real debate if we are too cautious! For my part, no offence taken, and I hope I did not give any.

Joined: 12/14/2008
other games

Perhaps you should not look at games, more on Mods to commercial games. On the other hand, thats more an in-group communication (but I can assure you, if that fails, the Mod is dead).

One problem:
I do many thinks for an OS-game called X-Force. Bughunting, testing, making a gameset. The team there is very small - only 2 programmers (and a hand full of "gamesetters"). All testing except thats done right at the programming is done in a more or less open alpha/beta. And with the above mentioned mantis bugtracker and fast reaction it works very well.
But that also means, who really cares for the game is right at the spot. There are awful long and complicated feature discussions, including ideas from people with no knowledge of programming. And more than one is "not implemented for a very long time because we don't have the man-power". But the end is: If something is build, its (hopefully) in the best way it can be.
Here on foldit, we don't see or hear much on what is planned. It is a huge difference of course, the games are quite different and the goal also. But maybe we can have more discussions like axcho had started here e.g. for "the fun in foldit". Or "what you want in cookbook" - before it is released.

Also included in the X-Force game is a script language. And there is a big problem. There are people willing to use it, but 1. its not easy and 2. its not really documented. Not what a beginner would call so. But the 2 programmers don't want to use days to write more than they have. They want the time to program the game (and they do it in their freetime together with all the other things!). Its not easy.
What I mean with that: You have a lot of tools and now the cookbook. How much words have you typed to explain it?
The "community", means the players, can do it. Right. Some would do it. But there need to be at least a few Players who know what to write at the start. Maybe they just explain it in chat and another one writes it. But there is no authoritative version. Players have to find out by themselves and then they think "maybe its not right or not good enough, I better write nothing".
And right at the first day there was the cry for a handbook to the cookbook ;)
But who should it write? Does anyone from the players now know what "iteration" (the only thing to wiggle) really means? I asked it my "my thougts on cookbook" tracker ticket.
I also did make a suggestion of a drag&drop feature, that got immediate thumps up in the chat.
On both I got no reaction.
This are things that can only be answered by the team.
(And btw: In the next ticket zoran mentioned LUA and gave a link. If this is all what we get after it is implemented, it is indeed a Community Copout and excactly the problem I mentioned with the X-Force script anguage where we needed to give the programmers a virtual beating to get at least a tutorial on the basics.)

In summary: There are things that can only be done by the team, and even now that doesn't work that well. But this is crucial for a fast understanding and using of features. If players need to guess and find out on their own, that slows down everything immense and is a motivation desaster.
It's like torrent seeding. You need at least one person who has all of the data to start it. Three more and it takes only a week to be fairly common. ;)

So, now I have given you more than an hour today in forum and issue tracker, don't waste that time :D

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Just because you don't think it, doesn't mean it isn't

@LennStar: Whoa.

(Tldr summary: We don't want to end up like XForce's scripting language, undocumented because the programmers haven't thought to document it.)

@Admin: Just because you don't think you are providing any community-copout, doesn't mean you aren't. Be careful about saying you aren't something; people are remarkably good at ignoring their flaws, whether individual or team-based.

The point is, not all of us have the temerity (for the kids in the audience, by the way, "temerity" means "courage") to provide documentation, and those of us experienced enough with the tools to provide documentation would rather be playing.

Joined: 12/14/2008
temerity

I'm not a kid, but a german and didn't know this word ;)
And that is also a problem. Not many non-natives feel able (or objective are) to write a documentary. Or are able to understand the biochemical stuff. Heck, I had advanced course in school in chemistry and its awful hard to understand for me the wikipedia even in german :D

"We don't want to end up like XForce's scripting language, undocumented because the programmers haven't thought to document it"
Now its more or less, but the new entries all lack a decription, so if the name doesn't say it 100% only the programmers now what it does ^^ And because there is so much open, I don't trust myself to write much about what I found out through trial and error. (And trust me, there are lots of errors in an trading script or others bigger than a page :D)

Thats the torrent thingy: You need at least one who spreads the wisdom to start. The cookbook won't be as complicated as the X-script, but without a documentation...

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My opinion

According to me, the programmers here are doing a great job: the development speed is incredible! Usually it takes a month to release something with only a few bugfixes, but here every few weeks an update with totally new features. Think about duels, flipping sheets, all hands puzzles, recent best, copy from guide, and last but not least the new cookbook, all less than a few months old. And most of those came from user suggestions, so when they don't reply to a topic it doesn't mean they haven't read it.

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