Notes on an Alpha Test

In Uncategorized by Skritter

nick-iconWe’ve been developing madly on Skritter since… well, since about as long as we can remember (June?). On this momentous day, we have finally finished enough of it for it to be barely usable. An alpha version!

There are a ton of bugs, and missing features, and stuff we just haven’t done yet, but we would be thrilled if you would be our alpha testers. Just check out the site, use it to practice some characters, and let us know what you think. We need your feedback and your excellent sense of design.

Note that the whole sign-up / log-in structure is waiting on a bugfix from Google App Engine, so for now we’ve just thrown something together: when the page loads, type in your username. You can pick anything you want, but in order to track progress, you’ll have to use the same username.

Then just start writing characters at the prompt. Press ‘S’ to go to the next character (same as the Next button), ‘F’ to see the character to remind you or to trace it, and ‘Space’ to clear the current character and start over. Any time you think of something, anything at all, that you want to tell us, enter it in the comment box and send it. It’ll include the current character you’re working on, if you have character-specific feedback.

Some specific questions:

  • What size do you find it most natural to write at? We’ve put radio buttons to select the size of the Flash window, so try the different sizes and see what you like.
  • Is it easy or hard to write the characters? Fun? How are the animations?
  • Does the learning process (prompt, write, move on) make sense to you? Are there tweaks we can do to make it more natural?
  • How are our colors, site design, link structure, etc.? Are you into the ink blot theme?
  • Is the site design just totally broken on your browser?
  • Is it loading fast enough for you? Any lag/delays?
  • Are there any characters that we’ve entered in wrong?

Some caveats, for the willing:

  • A lot of the site isn’t there yet, of course.
  • The home page has some debugging stuff for alpha testers, like that comment box, traditional/simplified selection, # of characters known, and the canvas size options. That’s just thrown up there as tools, not to be part of the final design.
  • You’ll probably need Flash Player 9, if you don’t already have it. It’s a snap to install, don’t worry.
  • It is using a very primitive spaced-repetition learning system. It keeps track of your progress, sort of, and schedules characters for learning based on when you’ll forget them, but it does it in a very stupid way for now. We’re working on this and it’ll get a lot better, soon. We don’t need feedback if this messes up, yet. It is designed to work best, however, if you write a character that you don’t know correctly once before moving on to the next.
  • There are only 554 characters in the database, out of ~2900 planned, and 2000 vocab words. That’ll keep growing.
  • We have very few traditional characters in there, now, so most of the time, choosing Traditional will just give you the Simplified for characters we haven’t done yet. Also, traditional / difficulty selection won’t take effect for a couple characters.
  • We’re recording the strokes that you make in order to better tune our recognizers. So write like you normally would want to for some practice thing like this. If it’s not recognizing something, it’s probably just because the recognition isn’t very well tuned for that stroke yet–and your data will help.
  • We will probably have to wipe out any learning progress before we move onto a Beta version (hopefully by September), potentially more than once.
  • Eventually, we will add feedback about stroke order — that’ll be cool. Until then, most relatively correct stroke orders should work. Traditional characters, though, have the strokes all messed up. I’ll fix that soon.
  • The username system is just a placeholder — good enough until we have a really good log-in system. At least it shouldn’t get in your way.

It’s really rough, but I hope you won’t hold that against us. It’ll get a lot better, especially with your help. Thanks!

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