Re: what's best for citeline support?

From: Stefano Mazzocchi <stefanom_at_MIT.EDU>
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 2008 10:06:16 -0400

Mathew Willmott wrote:
> Hi Stefano,
> Thanks for this proposal (and thanks also for your quick responses to
> all of the users emailing you about the software!).

It's my responsibility to help out, not only to code, but your kind
words are very appreciated.

> I agree that it's
> valuable to keep Citeline running as is, provided that we (that is, you,
> or whoever is taking over the development) are able to continue taking
> feedback like what we've been seeing, responding to it in a timely
> fashion, and applying the knowledge that we gain to improve the system.

I have copied you in my responses so that you can understand what I'm
doing... which basically boils down to understand first where the
problem is (is it a citeline bug? is it in the bibtex parser? is there a
simple work-around that doesn't require coding?)

The BibTeX world is a real mess out there, and we can't expect others to
change their software to make our interoperability problems go away, so,
when possible, we need to cope with the issues with minimal impact for
the user.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to keep such impact to zero,
which means that citeline users will continue to complain about little
things here and there, even when the system is well polished.

I urge you all to understand that this is *not* something to feel
ashamed of, or an indication of poor development or poor execution, but
it's a result of the interoperability complexities of semi-structured
metadata, especially with very old formats and with many independent
actors in the mix.

It takes years of polishing and adjusting to make wide-scale many-actors
systems inter-operate: I don't expect Citeline to be any different,
despite the best of the efforts.

> I think what you've proposed doing with a Google group sounds like a
> reasonable solution which addresses the issues that you put forth. Is
> this a common means of support for the things that you've been
> producing? If not, then what have you been doing to handle those?

In the past, we forced people to subscribe to the
mailing list for all the projects that SIMILE produced. This worked
somehow, but has the drawback of putting people with very different
interests in the same spot, loweing their perceived signal/noise ratio.

> I'll least chime in with what my "vision" for the citeline-lib list
> was. I was under the impression that it would pretty much be solely the
> MIT folks who were part of our pilot that would be using this and asking
> us for help (perhaps with more worldly issues like "How do I get a
> BibTeX file out of X?" or "How can I put my new exhibit in location
> Y?"). I sort of saw myself as the initial triage-type person, with
> everybody else on the list basically to see what questions people are
> having, how it's all going, and who is using the service. As such, if
> an easy question were to come in, I'd either figure out what's wrong and
> tell them or send them a stock answer, copying the list so that they see
> it's been taken care of and they can chime in with extra comments if
> necessary. If it was something more in depth that I couldn't answer,
> I'd respond with an initial answer and call on the appropriate person or
> people from citeline-lib--the subject specialist, the cite-help group,
> or the developers--to provide a more complete response.
> I don't think this is a completely dead idea, if it seems like a
> reasonable one...what if anybody signing in with an MIT email address
> sees both the Google group and the citeline-lib list for help, and
> everybody else sees just the Google group?

I thought of that. It's certainly possible, but the fact is that,
especially with openid, it's impossible to tell MIT people from non-MIT
people (since MIT doesn't provide openids).

Even with email, MIT people might not want to reveal their affiliation
with the institute as they try the system out.

> I guess that has the
> drawback that questions to the list aren't archived, but it allows us to
> support the people who this was intended for (or at least the people
> that the citeline-lib group was formed to support). And it still
> maintains the Google group which can form a community of users.

I'm afraid of the "us vs. them" tendency. I know that you're paid by the
institute and therefore your natural instinct is to treat people inside
and outside differently, but once you realize that those outside people
(at least at this stage) are doing a service for you *for* those inside
people, I don't see the reason to differentiate, at least at this stage.

In the future maybe, but for now I think it's better to keep the
community building efforts and the support efforts combined, to maximize
both by cross-energizing.

> Mat
> Stefano Mazzocchi wrote:
>> NOTE: this is address to all the people subscribed to this list.... if
>> you have comments/opinions/suggestions, please, let yourself be heard.
>> Thanks.
>> - o -
>> By now, a lot of you are probably nervous about the flow of help
>> requests about Citeline coming to this mailing lists from people that
>> are not affiliated with MIT.
>> Even more, you are probably nervous about the fact that the problems
>> they seem to be having are due to bugs and/or system imperfections,
>> other than user misunderstandings or difficulty in use of the tool,
>> which leaves you mostly helpless and just waiting for somebody (well,
>> me, since I'm the only one left working on citeline).
>> I've already observed several reactions about this and proposals on how
>> to fix this situation, here is a list:
>> 1) shut the system down entirely until we fix all the bugs
>> 2) shut the system down for non-MIT users
>> 3) have two different instances one for MIT users (with a link to this
>> list) and one for non-MIT uses with no support
>> I think all of these options might reduce the nervousness perceived
>> around Citeline but only at the expense of reducing its impact and
>> usefulness.
>> I have strongly advised for the system to be made available to the
>> general public and to remain open as long as we can afford to keep it up
>> (and it is safe/ for the libraries to do so).
>> The reason for this are multiple:
>> a) during beta testing, we need the most users as possible as to
>> differentiate their behavior, data, skills, requirements and
>> expectation... this will help us get more feedback and more feedback
>> equals more polishness. This will make the system more solid and more
>> appealing to internal users once/if they get to adopt it.
>> b) internal usage will only be positively influenced by external usage:
>> MIT faculty and students are ego-driven beings... envy will play a major
>> role if they see some other professor in another institution using an
>> MIT tool to make their web pages cooler and they are still in the ugly
>> and static HTML table stone-age with their own.
>> Unfortunately, the idea of having a one-way mailing list where people
>> broadcast their questions and get answered by a pool of helpers is *NOT*
>> the best model for this kind of situation.
>> First, because people send their answers but don't subscribe to the mail
>> list traffic, meaning that they have no idea (and no way to know) if
>> their question has been answered before.
>> Second, and most important, because of the point above, there is no
>> 'community of users' forming, there is no mutual help, there is way for
>> such support system to grow along with the size of the community of
>> users.
>> Which brings me to the following suggestion:
>> a) the link from citeline's page to should be
>> removed
>> b) that link should be replaced with a link to a citeline support
>> Google group
>> c) people will be forced to subscribe in order to be able to receive
>> help.
>> This might reduce usage (people with problems will not bother to
>> subscribe and just walk away), but it is the first step in the creation
>> of a community of users that can help each other out.
>> Moreover, all the email messages are archived, meaning that search for
>> their questions before sending them and watch existing threads. Such
>> threads will also be available in google directly.
>> In the future, would this support group not be sufficient for MIT
>> people, the mail list might be resurrected and
>> linked back from citeline, maybe reacting on MIT certificates to
>> distinguish between insiders from outsiders, but I would strongly
>> advocate that this should be used as a measure of last resort and not as
>> a way to avoid spending the effort to build a truly diverse support
>> group for Citeline.
>> thoughts?

Stefano Mazzocchi
Digital Libraries Research Group                 Research Scientist
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
E25-131, 77 Massachusetts Ave               skype: stefanomazzocchi
Cambridge, MA  02139-4307, USA         email: stefanom at mit . edu
Received on Wed Aug 27 2008 - 10:06:16 EDT

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