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gsaines

Skritter: Online Character Practice, want feedback!

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daofeishi

Two massive thumbs up for skritter! It works like a charm, especially since I got myself a drawing tablet a while ago :)

I haven't used Integrated Chinese myself, but the wordlists are good. As for the further development of the tool, it would be great to get wordlists for other books as well (like the "Chinese Made Easier" series) and, as others have pointed out, a tool for creating your own word lists. It would also be nice to have a tool for automatically creating word lists from text documents/web pages. That would be a great way of consolidating what you learn from real-life Chinese sources online.

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ABCinChina

Thanks for all those notes on Traditional Chinese, Hoffman. Now I'll know what to look out for when practicing Traditional using Skritter. Hopefully they will fix this.

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gsaines

Wow, great feedback guys, thanks a lot for your time and interest! I'm only sorry that I've been so bad about checking back here to give you all individualized answers.

daofeishi: The current wordlists are fairly restrictive, sorry about that. In the next few weeks we're going to be greatly expanding the available lists (we'll be adding NPCR, Chinese Primer, All Things Considered, Dave and Helen, HSK 2+3, and Discussing Everything in Chinese), and we'll also be adding support for user-created lists. To be honest, we're big fans of the ChinesePod vocabulary adding system that allows users to add characters on the fly from anywhere on the site, so we're trying to take a hint from them in designing our own system.

smalldog: those laggy response times could have to do with your setup, or it could be due to the fact that our google appengine server isn't load balanced and tends to get higher ping times outside of the US. We actually just setup a redirect to fix a lot of the problems people have been having with access from China and it seems that it's also reducing ping times. Let us know if you're still having problems, because that kind of performance is something we need to make sure doesn't keep happening.

Also, your idea for a grid pattern is good. Right now we don't have one and that's a detriment because it doesn't help people learn good proporitions (I know mine are way off, or as Nick says, my characters look "wonky.")

jbradfor: an automatic strictness control would be sweet. We don't have the development resources to pursue it right now, but I've had Nick add it to our "mega list of features" for the future. It shouldn't take too much time, just tuning on our end.

Also, if those NT Firefox errors keep giving you problems, drop us a line via the beta comment box on our site, and we can work through a solution with you. IE7 can be a pain, and I'd hate to impose it on you.

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gsaines

A few months ago I posted here about a startup my friends and I were working on called Skritter that helps learners learn Chinese vocabulary with writing practice using a spaced repetition scheduling backend. Since the last post we've made a lot of progress and we were interested in getting another round of feedback from the Chinese Forums community.

The list of updates and improvements is as follows: we've added a Try It page with more documentation on how everything works. We've added a lot more textbook vocabulary lists (18 at present), and more are coming next week. The scheduling has been dramatically improved. Stroke recognition now occurs client side, which makes the program a lot more quick and responsive. We've tuned the handwriting recognition significantly to make the drawing easier. Users can now add their own vocabulary (although a formal list building system hasn't been completed yet) and thanks to the sinoknights at ChinesePod, the quality and coverage of our audio prompts have improved dramatically.

We would like to know if our UI can be better designed, if there are any hidden bugs, or if we're overlooking any low-hanging features. We've been very fortunate to have received a lot of really helpful feedback from our beta users and I'll stick around on this thread to answer any questions. Thanks a lot for your time and consideration!

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eeraser

Looks like a nice site. I will play with it over the week-end, but where would you like the suggestions, PM, on your forum or emailed?

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gsaines

Hey eeraser, thanks for being willing to give it a try. It would be easiest for us if you left comments via the box on our site, but please do whatever is most convenient for you. We really appreciate your time and interest.

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roddy

While everyone can obviously post feedback where they want, it's preferable from our point of view if it gets posted in here - more reading material for the forums members, and it'll also act as a free bump to get more attention and then perhaps more feedback.

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gsaines

Roddy is right, I apologize for being rude. It didn't even occur to me when posting the last time, but it wasn't particularly kind of me to just use Chinese Forums for direct publicity. I check this forum often, so eeraser et al please feel free to leave feedback here.

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roddy

No rudeness perceived or intended, I'm sure.

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Hofmann

I haven't looked at Skritter for for a while. Of the few characters I've sampled, it looks like the stroke order problems for Traditional Chinese have been taken care of where possible. The differing character forms between the two standards creates the most difficulty in getting the right stroke order. For example, the character 萬 on Skritter has the 艸-head connected and the 9th and 10th strokes (or 8th and 9th on Skritter) non-overlapping, so it's impossible to follow the ROC stroke order while using that typeface. A typeface that does follow the ROC character forms with separated stroke outlines is DFKai-SB. Version 5.00 is included with Windows Vista, Windows 7 Beta, and Windows Server 2008. I don't know if Skritter can use it or not.

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stelingo

I have just signed up to Skritter and although I think it's a great way to practise Hanzi I can't work out an easy way to add words that I want to study. The textbook I use is A Key to Chinese Speech and Writing. I started going through the HSK list looking for the characters I want to study but this is very time-consuming. Is there no search function or a quicker way of finding the Hanzi I want?

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roddy

Any thoughts from anyone using Skritter's paid service? Or is the free version still useful enough that nobody's coughed up yet?

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gsaines

Hey Stelingo, sorry to hear about your problems with adding vocabulary. Scott is actually building a vocabulary list builder as we speak, but until that goes live (hopefully next week) you can add vocabulary by going to the queue and simply typing or copying and pasting vocabulary. If you're still having problems, drop us a line via the contact page and we'll help you out.

Roddy, thanks for raising this question about Skritter's usefulness. If people don't find it worth the cash, we'd be very interested to know why so that we can develop features that folks actually want! Alternatively, if its a fair price for the service, we'd still be interested to know what we can add or improve.

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Prodigal Son

this looks great but when I try to register an account I get a page not found error. otherwise the site appears to be working properly.

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PhilipLean

nwinter

I liked your explanation of the SRS specifically for Chinese and the issues involved.

I signed up to try Skritter and I can see what you mean. It is really a good specialized program. I really like the graphics and demonstration for the already written characters.

But, I find it hard to understand. I am one of those people who find educational / learning games useless, I get lost trying to follow the rules of the game and miss the learning messages.

I sent feedback on the site but I will post some expanded comments here, as feedback, not an attack on your work.

It seems to be geared towards people who are a long way on the path towards learning Chinese characters.

There a lot of people like me learning Mandarin and other Chinese languages who have not attended an intensive university level course but have some knowledge of the language and are looking for a tool to help them increase their knowledge of characters.

This tool is almost inaccessible to them.

The three things I think would make it more accessible;

1 - Simple description of how to use us it.

That might include a brief summary of what the vocabulary lists are.

2- have the option to show numbered stroke order and direction - apparently there is animation, I could not find it.

3 - the option of popup help - telling the user what to do if the wrong stroke or entry is made - a help panel on the side - there is a lot of empty space that could be used for toggled help

Additional suggestions

a - if I select study traditional or simplified characters I would like to be able to see the other form displayed on the page.

b - I could not see a way to import my own character or word list.

A last comment, I wondered about the use of highly informal almost slang English. I spend a lot of time trying to wean young Chinese friends out of using "yeah" and similar terms in written English, (they tend to use it places where it is not appropriate) so I was surprised to see this sort of language on an educational site.

Overall it is a good product.

I read the history. Could you tell me more about why the handheld, eg Nintendo DS path was not viable ? It seems to me that the Nintendo DS is a greatly underutilized platform, small, smart (lots of processing power - particularly in the new versions) cheap and almost indestructible.

Edited by PhilipLean
I added some more detail

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nwinter

Thanks for the feedback--good suggestions! We're rather behind on a lot of things at the moment, not least of which is a tutorial, which we're planning to build into a Try It page. Question: do you think a screencast showing how to use the site would help?

Currently, you can see the stroke order by holding down the Show (示) button (or "S"). It's undocumented as of yet, unfortunately, and I haven't gotten the directional animations in there yet, which I think will help. I'm trying to avoid numbering the stroke order, though... it seems aesthetically unappealing to me. Maybe I'm stodging out, though.

I think the tutorial will include help for certain things. We've been trying to do it for a while, but it's always been "after this next thing."

The alternate traditional/simplified display is coming if we can fit it in this next redesign of the prompt interface.

You can make your own word list using the 'Custom Lists' function on the vocab tab. Or, if it's a smaller amount of words, you can paste them in the 'Queue' widget (also on the vocab tab). We've recently redesigned that (again), trying to make it less obtuse. May I ask what about that current task navigation was confusing, so that we can adjust it?

About the informal English: we're three 23-year-old guys in an apartment, and branding is hard. If we turn every "yeah" into a "yes" and every "awesome" into an "excellent", I guess it will have more appeal for older users, but less for younger users (and we'll have less fun making it). It's tough because we can't easily measure it. The little advice I've read on this suggests not to pretend to be something you're not (a big company), but I know we can easily be too casual, too. Hmm. I guess we can try A/B testing some formality alterations on the front page. And I'll run a poll on the Skritter site.

I'd love to hear more feedback from other readers on the formality issue.

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PhilipLean

Thanks for taking my comments seriously

Question: do you think a screencast showing how to use the site would help?

Yes but as part of a part of a package, a well built help file. Right now I think some simple / basic text in the blank right panel would would help a lot. For example

hold down the Show (示) button (or "S") to see the stroke order
I'm trying to avoid numbering the stroke order, though... it seems aesthetically unappealing to me. Maybe I'm stodging out, though.

Not stodging but definitely limiting your market, it should be pretty easy to make it an option. A lot of people are learning to write characters without the basic drill on stroke order. It is something they learn later or not very well.

May I ask what about that current task navigation was confusing, so that we can adjust it?

I will think about that some more and get back to you.

About the informal English: we're three 23-year-old guys in an apartment, and branding is hard. If we turn every "yeah" into a "yes" and every "awesome" into an "excellent", I guess it will have more appeal for older users, but less for younger users (and we'll have less fun making it). It's tough because we can't easily measure it. The little advice I've read on this suggests not to pretend to be something you're not (a big company), but I know we can easily be too casual, too. Hmm. I guess we can try A/B testing some formality alterations on the front page. And I'll run a poll on the Skritter site.

Seems a bit of overkill to me, plus a poll on Skritter would only get Skritter users commenting, better to run it here on this forum. It is also a diversion from the issues of content and accessibility. Plenty of sites have formal /standard English on the front end and some pretty crazy content - PopupChinese is a good example.

I think there is a real niche for a site that does more than just display standard lists, lots of people are doing that - although your learning algorithms appear unique. It would be neat to see a site like yours grab some recent topical text - news - announcements - etc and break it into words / sentences.

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nwinter

Maybe you're right. I will think of clever ways to generate stroke numbering.

I think providing our own content as well will be too much work unless we expand. Being able to throw in topical text will be good, though--if we hook up a Chinese text segmenter, then it can pull out all words and users can pick what they want to learn.

Appreciate the suggestions!

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roddy

Decided on Monday to have another push at learning to actually write. Tuesday went out to buy pads of paper and pencils. Came home and stared at paper and pencils in dismay at the thought of starting this sorry process all over again. Thought 'Hmmm, maybe I should give this Skritter thing a try'. Give that Skritter thing a try.

It was fun! Admittedly at this point I'm going through characters I've already learned to write who knows how many times over the last decade, so progress is fairly swift. But swishing my mouse around and watching all the little strokes fall into place was damned satisfying.

Wednesday went right out and bought a writing tablet. Ho, now it's REALLY fun. It's just gone midday and I've already done two hours this morning. I find myself wanting to spend more time on Skitter instead of working. Walking back from breakfast I found myself anticipating all the characters I'd need to review when I got home.

How long this will last I don't know, but the last time I found learning to do anything in Chinese this much fun was when I bought Pleco and threw out thousands of paper flashcards. To borrow a phrase from the people who sold me that breakfast: I'm lovin' it.

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xianhua

Here’s another thumbs up. Up until the moment I’d taken the trial on Skritter, I’d been averse to paying for any Chinese-learning software. After the trial, I became addicted, and finding the subscription funds became a necessity.

The prospect of sitting down and writing characters out by hand after a ‘hard’ day at work, is about as appealing as a dental appointment. Skritter solves that problem. It somehow doesn’t feel like work; scrawling around on the tablet together with the user friendly graphics give it more of a computer game feel. I’m currently working my way through the HSK2 word list, many of which I recognise, but have never written - and the characters are now sticking well.

We’re thinking of using this method with our daughter when she starts to write. Maybe the guys at Skritter would consider developing a ‘Skritter Junior’ version? I’m thinking cartoon icons dotted around, animal-sound effects for incorrect strokes, and conversely, an accumulation of virtual gold coins for every correct character. The kids would be learning without realising it.

Now there’s a potential market for you!

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