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Skritter: Online Character Practice, want feedback!


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My two best friends and I just graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio this last May. Being the crazy kids we are, we decided it would be awesome to avoid living in a cubicle farm and instead set about building a web application to help people learn written Chinese. So we started a business around Skritter. Right now we're beta testing, and the site is open and free to everyone. We were invited to post here to solicit feedback.

The idea behind Skritter is pretty simple: we thought it was too difficult to remember enough characters to read a newspaper with conventional methods (aka flashcards). We took a look around at Anki, SuperMemo, and Mnemosyne, and felt actual handwriting practice was missing. So we built a handwriting recognition system that gives users stroke-level feedback on their input. We're also developing a spaced repetition system to manage user vocab. To be honest, it's not as polished as Mnemosyne yet (they have a lot more experience and data to work with!) and that leads me to our reason for posting.

We're looking for thoughts, suggestions, and comments from the awesome Chinese-forums community to better improve Skritter! We realize it's still somewhat incomplete (we have a list of feature improvements that would take years to fully implement :D) but we want to hear what informed learners think and want. So if you get a minute, drop on over to Skritter.com and let us know what you think!

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Oh my goodness amazing stuff. I could use this on my beginning Chinese class students. Is there some way a teacher like me could assign/organize characters for homework? For example, let's say I want to have them practice the characters for 我,你,好,忙,学,中文 for homework next week, how would I do that on Skritter?

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Mang Lelan, right now we're relying on standardized lists, but it's on our list of things to do to allow 老师 like you to to create your own list. I talked to Nick and Scott, and if you'd be interested, we think we might be able to get that working in a few weeks at which point you could send us a list list of characters, and we'd standardize and format the list and upload it. If you ever want to do that, feel free to send me a list at [email protected] and we'll process it as soon as the backend supports it!

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Excellent! I'll send you an email. The class stresses speaking, listening, reading, and writing but it's been extremely difficult to motivate them to really learn and practice writing. Maybe this will motivate them.

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at which point you could send us a list list of characters, and we'd standardize and format the list and upload it.
That will probably work for maybe 1-2 teachers, but doesn't really scale that well - what happens in the future when you have 100 (or 1,000) teachers wanting to provide you with new lists every week? Perhaps allow people to sign up for "teacher" accounts and let them upload their own lists. Teachers can then assign other users as their students, and their lists then become accessible to them. Even better, allow the teacher to keep track of which of their students have done the exercises, and provide information about mistakes made etc etc.

Of course all of that is much more work, which is why you make the teacher accounts more expensive :mrgreen: with any luck they'd get their school to pay anyway.

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That's a good point. To be honest, it's a stop-gap measure until we can build a vocab list putter-together because as you say, the work overhead is too great for us to maintain it long term. We hope to eventually have a totally sweet vocab list selector that makes the whole process easy and intuitive.

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which is why you make the teacher accounts more expensive with any luck they'd get their school to pay anyway.

That's what some teachers I know do with podcasts. The school subscribes to a podcast service, then the teachers assign certain podcasts to the students depending on level.

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Excellent tool - I especially like how it gives you feedback when you are stuck on a stroke, by reminding you of the next stroke, and letting you know that you've got a stroke out of order. It's the only tool that I've found so far that has this kind of feature.

When do you think pricing would be finalized?

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Very good.

The fault-tolerance, the error detection, "feels" just right.

I used a tablet. Unlike elsewhere that I've tried it, your program doesn't trigger on unintended, microsecond-length bounces that sometimes happen especially at the beginning of a stroke. I could draw in a carefree way. Nice.

I see that when a stroke is made out of order, that fact is signaled, but the stroke is accepted anyway. I think that stroke should be rejected. Otherwise, unless it is erased, it prompts for a violation of stroke order. That feels too awkward to me.

When I left off a hook, I saw the message very briefly "should have a hook". I think that message should be somehow a little bolder. Also, the program accepted the stroke and added the hook for me. I think that stroke should be rejected until the human hooks it himself. That hook often has a semantic value; it is not just a flourish.

One of the statements on your website is very effective: "you can get feedback as soon as you write a stroke, and not just wonder why the computer can't recognize your character after you've finished writing it with the wrong stroke order". Right.

Here's something you might consider in the future. Your program auto-corrects the proportions of the character. Maybe you could offer a setting that would tighten up its tolerance for this.

Thanks and good luck.

Fortune cookie says: "Fame and fortune await you!"

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Thanks for the feedback guys.

Cming: I'm glad you like it, and by the way, I saw that you signed up, so if you find any bugs or have feature suggestions, let us know and we'll see what we can do!

Querido: Eventually the strictness button that sits below the flash window will let users self-select how harsh the grading will be. As it is right now, it's a bit confusing, and not terribly effective, but that will become more polished in time. Different users will want to learn their characters with different precision and we want to make sure users are comfortable with the writing. (Personally I'd like a little more strictness as well, so when the button works, I'll be the first to try it!) However, we'd like to keep the recognition from enforcing really strict stroke order because users have told us that they are learning passively with the suggestions. Do you see the strictness control regulating the stroke order penalty as well as the proportions, or independent options for both?

Thank you both very much for your time and thoughts!

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This site has a lot of potential!

It could get to be a lot of work if you want to support Traditional. See this thread.

I messed around with it for a while. Here were my thoughts as I went on:

Stuff with 戈 is different depending on which standard you use. See the thread I linked to.

Same with 馬.

們 is wrong, unless you're carving 甲骨文.

Hooks aren't always necessary, e.g. the first stroke of 也.

I'm surprised you got 學 right!

沒 in Traditional, not 没.

甚, not 什.

麼 has no forest in it. It's hemp 麻. At the bottom is 幺.

說 has 兌 on the right, not 兑.

...etc. Stuff like that you might want to take a closer look at. A lot of work, no?

Edited by Hofmann
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That's a good point Hofman and the thread you linked to was relevant. We do have support for Traditional and Simplified characters, but as you've found out, we don't yet have the ability to modify stroke order to accommodate the differences between the two styles. I will talk with Nick and Scott and see what can be done about this.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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Wow, this is great.

Some random thoughts, requests, suggestions, desires, etc... This is by no means meant to be negative, just honest thoughts and feelings...

1. Guide marks that divide the writing space into 4 quadrants. One of the most difficult aspects of writing foreign characters is, IMHO, position, stroke proportions, etc. The guide marks might help when showing what the character might look like. To make it even more fancy. Have a slider that can adjust the darkness of the guide lines.

2. Common mistakes and suggestions to fix. For example, when writing 三, the second stroke should be shorter than the third (and possibly the third). Not sure where you can get this info but perhaps you can compile this info from all the input you get from your website. The Heisig "Remembering the Kankji" text has a few good suggestions, such as "write 三 as 一 with 二 beneath it in order to help keep the proportions correct. Maybe this is what the "should hook" is doing, but I'd like to know what else is wrong with my characters. Or suggestions such as "angle should be less than 90 degrees, right side should be bigger than the left, 5th stroke should be in alignment below 4th, etc etc. Might be too much info, but I would like it.,

3. Building off the "slider" concept, how about a slider that will show the actual character. Or "learning mode" and a "testing mode." If I don't know how to write 你, I'd rather get it right the first time.

4. The "strictness" slider is not intuitive. Does 1 day mean I've been studying for 1 day, so be easy on me and what does "skip for forever" mean?

5. The correct character, when displayed, doesn't give indication to the stroke order. Maybe that's intended, but I was looking for stroke order somehow.

6. Stroke direction would also be helpful. Arrows work, but make the display too busy looking. Wenlin's "ink" looks nice (strokes are darker at first and then lighten towards the end of the stroke).

7. If I start writing the character too small, or don't start in the correct space, the stroke is not recognized. Not sure what to do about that one. ex. 你.

8. For the radicals, how about the Chinese names (in pinyin) to displayed with the radical to write? This is very helpful when speaking with Chinese: "How do you write that word? " "oh, standing hand on the left. ect."

Enough for now. Great tool!

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Yes!! Someone has done this at last. I'm up to the point of having memorized 2300 individual characters by sight and w/o knowing how to write them. Thanks so much for this. :mrgreen:

I can't seem to access the site being in China though but I'll try when I get home.

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