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.