A cordial community


(Joe Bock) #1

This community is wonderful. It’s very supportive and deferential. However, I would like to see it more tolerant of criticism, if presented in a constructive fashion.

I spent quite some time writing a response to the Love / Hate thread that Katherine opened, only to find the discussion was closed down just as I tried to post. I felt there was much to discuss and I was going to try to get the conversation focused on the issue: the learning curve.

Katherine particularly mentioned getting bogged down and finding other tools more intuitive. There is value in exploring this as a general topic. I respectfully ask that the conversation be reopened. If the discussion is tedious for some then it can be ignored.


(Mark Anderson) #2

Oh dear, never a good deed goes unpunished. Such is the moderator’s life.

I closed the thread because it wasn’t, in a user-to-user forum, discussing anything actionable by us users.

I’ll be honest that as someone who’s spend 20+ years doing voluntary tech support (for a number of apps over time, and 13+ here) that it depresses people are so intolerant of well-mannered discourse and the fact that endless-tye kicking is tiresome to read.

This is not tech support. We users have no direct influence on Tinderbox’s or Storyspace other than to make well-mannered observations as to how design might be improved and that is best done by writing to tech support.

This is one of those days when I wonder why I bother to give my time for free to help others. :sob:

P.S. you can always start a new thread.


(Joe Bock) #3

So sorry Mark. Your efforts are appreciated. I’ll consider very carefully how I open the next thread and how it can be kept constructive.

Eastgate, the company, does contribute to the discussion. Even though we users can’t make things happen, we do seem to have the company’s ear.


(James Fallows) #5

Point 1: Mark Anderson is the not-often-enough celebrated hero of this forum. Any challenges in Climbing Mt. Tinderbox would be incomparably harder without his selfless contributions here and with aTbRef.

Point 2: Here is how I understand what Mark A was saying in closing the preceding thread:

There are lots of areas in which people just differ in style and taste. For instance, Mac vs PC. Or iPhone vs Android. Or, in a realm I have dealt with over the years, Chinese written characters vs Western alphabetic script.

It’s useful, in discussions on these topics, to have people figure out how to navigate in one realm, by comparison with the other. For instance: “What is this screwy Command key on the Apple keyboard, and how do I get used to it?” Or, “why does the DEL key on a Mac work the way it does?” Or, when it comes to language, “What’s the best mnemonic device for keeping track of these all-look-the-same Chinese characters?” Or, “is it worth learning Traditional characters [as in Taiwan / Hong Kong], or Simplified [as in PRC]?”

It’s less useful to say, in a learning-the-Mac forum, “Why do you people pay for Macs, when PCs are so much cheaper?” Or, vice versa, “Why do you people put up with PCs, when Macs are so much simpler?” Or, in a phone forum, “Why use Androids, when iPhones are more secure?” “Why are you such iPhone fanboys, when Android is a more open platform?” Or, “Why does China have these nutty characters,” vs “Why is English spelling so hard?”

All of these “Why do you…?” questions are legit, but I think Mark A was saying that they’re beyond the useful range of a user-to-user forum. People like different approaches and styles and aesthetics. I think Mark was saying: If you’re looking for guidance on how to use this system more easily and effectively, this is the place! But if you’re more interested in “Why do you people pay for Macs?”/“Why do you people put up with PCs?”, the discussion may reach the end of its useful course.


(Mark Anderson) #6

</curmudgeon-mode>.
Nah, not totally bummed out - and thanks for kind words.
<normal-service-resumed>
Keep the questions coming. Always interesting to find new ways to use Tinderbox and to find ways to explain what wasn’t hitherto obvious. :smile:


(Sumner Gerard) #8

FWIW, I donate a lot of time to another user-to-user forum that supports tough-to-master software that, like Tinderbox, is used in countless different ways.

Mostly efforts are appreciated; sometimes they’re not. It’s a fact of life that even sophisticated users can ask questions or make suggestions in ways that are not precise or “useful” or strictly on-topic, or even civil.

The way I look at it, users have paid to be guests at the party. Some join a conversation that, like many human conversations, can lack actionable precision. They obviously care about the host, or they wouldn’t show up or speak up. They’re not trading insults or trashing the host’s property.

In that situation it seems to me understandable that some may feel uncomfortable summarily being told that the room they entered and the conversation they joined is now suddenly closed, suggesting what they have to say is not “useful” and that they should go to another room.

That to me is the unfortunate unintended message sent by locking down a live thread and suggesting people go elsewhere. That to me is quite apart from the incredible support provided here, which is truly appreciated.

Tinderbox excels at incremental formalization. Perhaps that can continue to apply here too?


(Mark Anderson) #9

Wow, tough crowd. I closed one thread which had run its course and become moan-fest, with no useful comment. To follow the party analogy

OK, but it’s not quite like that. If they complain the wine’s not to their taste and anyway they prefer beer, why’s there no beer, and the canapé’s look like foreign food I don’t trust…etc, then it’s all a bit passive aggressive and doesn’t help inform fellow users as to how best use the app.

I’ve been writing public documentation long enough to know not everyone uses the same frame and terminology so one has to adapt - I certainly have and still do in my writing. Still, just turning up to saying everything on offer is effectively rubbish and unlearnable is less helpful that saying" I tried to read X but didn’t understand the terminology" and or I got lost at point Y. That’s what I mean by actionable.

I can punt posts to the lounge but I sense it will just be a pit of despair. Moan-posts are seeking validation; at some point we’ve all made them. I’m not imputing behaviour in others to which I’ve not been prey. One can reply to such posts and be abused for responding with actual advice, or not respond and let the moans dogpile. Both are upsetting for those of us who are here giving our time to those who actually want help.

Can’t we just play nice?


(Joe Bock) #10

I seemed to have created a monster by asking for that other thread to be reopened. This last post of yours is chock full of negative emotion and disparaging remarks. I apologize for my part in this.

Mark, I do have a lot of respect for you, but it’s disturbing that you’ve characterized the closed thread as a “moan-fest, with no useful comment”. I had thought you closed the thread because some anger started to creep in.

Threads in this forum meander quite a bit; it’s kind of pleasant. However, the closed thread was watered down to the point that the opening post wasn’t getting a thorough answer. My post was trying to directly address the question and issue raised. I worry now that you thought it was trash talk.

It is untrue that this forum is a user-to-user forum. Eastgate often jumps in when something seems actionable or for other reasons. This is the only forum available for an open discussion where the company is listening. Direct one on one with support is no substitute. I hope that a detail here or a detail there are not the only things Eastgate thinks are actionable.

Regards,
Josephine


(Pat Maddox) #11

Other people were getting value from that thread, otherwise they wouldn’t have contributed. Another approach could be to let the thread live, and not follow / participate in it yourself. There’s a good bit of distance between “I no longer get value from this thing” and “nobody will get any value from this thing.”


(Katherine Derbyshire) #12

As both the initiator of the closed thread and a moderator on other forums, I can see both sides and am fine with Mark’s decision. Not my house, not my rules.

Katherine


(Joe Bock) #13

My last post in this thread reflected hurt feelings. I’m over it. Mark deserves much more latitude than I gave him. Tinderbox would be crippled without him. Imagine a world with no aTbRef or his contributions on the user forum. There would be virtually no way to figure Tinderbox out.

However, Eastgate references this forum on their website, offering it up as a way for users to get help. The forum’s existence contributed to my decision to buy the product. Because of this, there’s a case to be made that Eastgate has a responsibility to ensure the forum serves the reasonable needs of its customers. I am one of its customers. I don’t own the house, but I do pay rent.

The closed thread did develop an edge right at the end. I was OK with it being shut down. But reading this thread made me reconsider. It seems some of the closed thread’s posts stepped out of bounds. I thought my post was taking an objective look at Tinderbox and offering it up for discussion. Eastgate’s response to my post was informative. I also hope that my subsequent reply added to the discussion. Still, I have this nagging feeling that I stepped out of bounds.


(Mark Anderson) #14

@JoeBock, my thanks you for your generous reflection. For my part I’m sorry if some insufficiently considered and thus unintentionally harsh words on my part caused people to feel upset - that wasn’t my intent. My participation in forums like this is because I’ve no tech background and learned largely by the ‘kindness of strangers’ online so it seems right to give back where I do (now) have expertise. My main desire as a moderator is to ensure no one feels left out, or gets no response at all; getting started with a complex tool can be intimidating. Anyway, in this case I clearly failed in those goals - so sorry!

I think I should perhaps add a sticky post as to what this forum considers a user-to-user forum and its relationship is to formal tech support (so I won’t do that here). The difficult balance for the moderator is weeding out what can become opinion shopping. The latter is rarely an intent at thread start, but as the ‘me too’ posts stack up, up too goes the angst quotient. We also forget that such posts, because they tend to be long (‘popular’) get read first and give new visitors a disproportionately false view of both the forum’s helpfulness (or not!) and the apps it discusses. I re-iterate, these occurrences tend not to be by deliberate original intent but difficulty still arises.

While I’m on leave this week I’m thinking on a way to bridge between people’s intuitive expectation of an overview the explains everything and the fact that most (all?) long term users here have stated that Tinderbox is a tool that doesn’t benefit from such a learning approach. IOW, gently nudge people from the former to the latter perspective. I sense it is a mix of the factual (attribute types, case-sensitive names, etc.) and more abstract (prototypes and inheritance, etc.) or for those who don’t like to read first, small practical exercises.


(Katherine Derbyshire) #15

I think this is a helpful direction to pursue. I have encountered a number of threads that say, essentially, “you can’t approach Tbx like most software.” Which is fine, but extremely frustrating unless there is additional guidance about just how one should approach it. Which, ideally, would be incorporated in the manual, the tutorial, or other materials that are readily accessible to new users.

It might be worth looking to tutorial materials on programming languages for suggestions. They typically include both discussion of underlying philosophy and concrete examples of solutions to increasingly complex problems.

Katherine


(Joe Bock) #16

Totally forgiven, Mark. I’m looking forward to your future contributions. Unlike you, the extent of my generosity is the regret that I have little.


(Pat Maddox) #18

post a new topic with:

“Hey, I’m trying to use Tinderbox to X. I tried Y, but it isn’t working for me. How do you do it?”


(Katherine Derbyshire) #19

Yes, I have received that suggestion before, and have done that. (And received helpful advice.) But a user-driven forum should be a supplement, not a replacement, for coherent tutorials and documentation.


(Mark Anderson) #20

Over the years I’ve made lots of tutorials and documentation. The only thing that has really found traction is aTbRef. Tutorials that are abstract - neutral in content terms - get the feedback along the lines “this is too abstract, I’m just trying to write a book”. Taking a more content/workflow based approach the feedback is “this is about writing a novel, I just trying to implement a to-do system”.

I’ve also made a number of worked examples with detailed explanation and TBX for the end of each step. If anyone has done those right through I’m not aware of it. As the app is under constant growth and with the OS and other tech shifting beneath its feet, it’s a big job just to update old example files.

I get that people want better/different, but when phrased in terms of what isn’t liked it’s hard to figure what ‘better’ implies, especially with an open-ended tool. What’s really useful is feedback on things people tried to find but couldn’t and indeed what they expected to find (i.e. their intuition/assumptions).

It’s been pointed out quite rightly that expertise makes one forget the start experience and I’m very aware of this. That is why it helps to know what’s missing. Is it the order of explanation? The terminology? The degree of indexing/cross-reference? It needs the starter’s perspective.


(Sumner Gerard) #21

I’m curious whether you mean to suggest a lack of coherent documentation. There’s tons of that, far more than I am able to process.

Tutorials are different. They’re scattered around in various places. But if you ask questions this whole forum becomes one big customized (and resource efficient) tutorial.


(Barry Weinstein) #22

Sumner, I think I understand what you’re saying but I’m not entirely sure.

In one sense the forum might be viewed as a living tutorial. The act of posting and reading responses might be considered to be the tutorial in action. It’s a very resource efficient tutorial since a poster’s exact challenge is being addressed. Bravo to the community for that. But that’s not really a tutorial. A tutorial should guide the user. It shouldn’t have to be poked and prodded with questions to guide the presentation.

In an another sense the forum is an abysmal tutorial. If you choose not to ask a new question, but rather work through the existing forum posts to learn things, it would be easy to get lost. I don’t think you mean to suggest it is a resource efficient tutorial in this regard.

The forum is great but no substitute for documentation or tutorial.


(Mark Anderson) #23

Tutorials work best if the app (or its users) are trying to do one, or a small number of things. That describes neither tinderbox nor its users who vary widely in familiarity with tech(nical abstraction) or in their desired task. Based on experience, users are more outraged by tutorials covering someone else’s task but not their own than they by no tutorial. some here have the scars to prove that. Counter-intuitively perhaps, a lively and helpful forum is actually a pretty good solution.

The issue is partly that there are a lot of smart people here who are quite used quickly acquiring understanding of new things. Faced by something not so quick to understand it rapidly becomes a zero-sum game of who (i.e. someone else/thing) is to blame for this apparent failure. But, no foul; it’s a very human reaction. As @eastgate pointed out tonight (I forget in which thread) difficult tasks may seem simple—in the mind’s eye of their eventual outcome—but are still not simple to do at first attempt; some learning is required. I say acknowledging my own transition along that path from my initial use of the app to more considered use now.