Lost at Sea

If I might be permitted an observation, there is something wrong when, in a forum expressly for the purpose of bug reports and feedback, a user’s perfectly valid comments are dismissed out of hand.

It’s bad enough when an unaffiliated Nature staffer who does not have an active blog on Nature Network (and yet maintains a presence on the private forum) weighs in and completely misses the point. It is far worse when one of the admins says something patently untrue–and then implies that the user shouldn’t be so silly as to ask for pretty basic features.

First, WordPress comes with an ‘Admin login’ straight out of the box. Second, I have used a Moveable Type install where the login link was in plain sight–and connected to an entire University’s user database. They managed to solve the ‘logging in across different sites’ problem that seems to be beyond Nature Publishing Group’s ken. Third, bookmarks are not necessarily “always in a fixed location on the screen” as anybody with more than one bookmark will be able to verify for themselves.

See how I manage to log in

And let’s get to the nitty gritty here. It’s one line of code we’re arguing about.

The comment made on 27 September was, actually, pretty good and said all that needed to be said for the time being (I suspect that was Lou). There was an apology, an understanding of the issue, and what looked like positive moves in the direction of working things out together with us, the users. Compare and contrast with what followed.

But apart from Lou, Nature Network isn’t that good at communicating with its users. Take this new Microsoft group blog for example: I know that a few people have been thinking “Pepsi“–but all we have heard from the Network is that “there’s no commercial connection here”. What does that mean? Does that mean Microsoft aren’t paying NPG for the privilege–and if not, why not?. Will Microsoft products or Microsoft-funded research never be mentioned in “The Fourth Paradigm”? At this stage, you know as much as I do, which is a truly woeful position to be in (and I should know).

Has Nature Network lost its way? Who is steering the ship? And is anybody left rowing?

Edited to add:

This entry was originally published at the BioLOG. Rather ironically, I couldn’t initially create a post on this site in my main browser. I’m now off to file a bug report.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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7 Responses to Lost at Sea

  1. Lou Woodley says:

    Once again, I’m sorry that the orange button sign-in issue is still causing problems. As you have no doubt gathered, our behind-the-scenes systems means it is actually harder than it perhaps appears that it should be to get "simple" features added, so I suspect there is something more technically complex at play here that just connecting from MT. I will make sure our consultant is reminded of how much this issue is still inconveniencing everyone.
    I think you’re being a little harsh on Matt who was merely expressing an opinion from personal experience, and which, as he said himself, does not reflect the action that we are taking to remedy the issue. He’s also since apologised for misunderstanding of his tone, as he did not wish to suggest that he lacked sympathy. Everyone is free to express measured opinions on the site and we all know that sometimes we’ll read things we don’t agree with or the tone of which is not correctly transmitted in the online environment. As for Maxine’s participation in the private bloggers’ forum, Maxine has maintained various blogs at NPG (including on NN) for some years and it is by this fact that she has qualified for inclusion in the bloggers’ forum, a decision I personally reviewed a few weeks ago. If you think that the fact that her NN blog is now inactive should exclude her, this is something that might benefit from being raised in the forum itself, or by emailing me, and we could consider gathering more feedback on the issue from other users.
    Which brings us onto the issue of whether NN has lost its way. I believe in nurturing a site where we actively communicate with our users, solicit regular feedback and try to act on that feedback to make the site somewhere where as many users as possible feel they have a productive, friendly and informative experience. I know that the “acting on the feedback” bit has been painfully slow for many of us recently, due to technical legacy issues. However, to continue your metaphor, if we all try to row together, there’s a chance we might meet our next destination a bit quicker. And as for who is steering the ship, I am trying to be a welcoming captain who supports and encourages a talented crew in setting and following our course. If you’d like to act as one of the coxes for the ship, please sign up for one of the workshops we’ve mentioned in the team blog recently
    As for the Fourth Paradigm blog, there is no conspiracy taking place – the reason we raised it in the private bloggers forum (where it was meant to stay private until the blog was launched, btw) is because we want to keep everyone up-to-date with everything we’re doing on the site. NN is not being paid for this blog, and it will not be used for any kind of product placement. It merely links in with a published book by Microsoft on (what I think) will be an interesting subject to many. The blog will enable authors who were not included in the book to continue to discuss its topics and hopefully get direct feedback from other scientists in the process. If you have any more specific questions, I’m happy to answer them – there are no secrets with regard to our editorial policy, which I’m always willing to qualify. However, this is already a mini-thesis, so I’ll stop now and wait for your feedback.

  2. Richard P. Grant says:

     I’m not having ‘orange button’ issues, Lou. 
    Maybe I was harsh on Matt, but responding two weeks after the original feedback, when somebody from NN had already engaged, in that tone is quite unacceptable. While not wishing to further attack Matt, the apology came after this post. 
    This is what I mean. It takes people—the bloggers—to get seriously upset before anybody takes any notice. It’s just not good enough.

  3. Mike Fowler says:

    Richard, I’m with you on much of what you say. Seriously, the orange button problem has prevented me from writing anything here in the last two months. My time is too precious right now to piss about with the blogging platform trying to figure out how the hell I should do what it’s there for. I discovered the workaround last week, but haven’t had the time to post since.
    I think the only point I might disagree on is a complaint about Satan’s unholy IT support services Microsoft having a blog here, based on commercial concerns.
    Plenty of NN’s users have taken the opportunity to advertise their wares here over the years. Personally, I’m also a little suspicious that the world’s largest OS manufacturers don’t have enough of their own webspace to host a blog (which actually appears to be a book), but still: pots, kettles, etc.

  4. Richard P. Grant says:

     Thanks for your comments, Mike.
    My issue isn’t with Microsoft as such (I’m not that naive) but with the lack of communication with the rest of the bloggers. I don’t think it’s too much to ask what’s going, what the terms are, etc., because as part of the Network, other bloggers’ activities impact our reputation, for good or ill.
    And yes, it does smell like a marketing exercise for the book. You’re right, many of us have plugged our own wares, but that’s probably fair enough given that we don’t get any other kind of recompense—and we self-police in that anybody tending to do it too much gets subjected to the ire of their peers. But this is an entire group blog, published by a company. I think there’s a difference in kind.

  5. Mike Fowler says:

    Absolutely agreed: communication, on a network intending to promote communication amongst scientists, should probably be a priority. As should bloggers actually being able to post blogs on a blog network…
    As for the scale of the problem with advertising, it slides, I suspect. I’ll look forward to an appropriate volume of your pithy responses if MS get carried away with it all!

  6. Mike Fowler says:

    Sorry, Lou. The final paragraph of your thesis-length comment escaped me.
    Would someone at NN like to comment specifically on why Microsoft need to host a discussion about their Fourth Paradigm book on Nature Networks, and not on one of their own websites? In particular, why was it decided that the site where you can download the book that they intend to discuss (for free) wouldn’t be a more appropriate place?

  7. Lou Woodley says:

    Mike – I’m really sorry you’ve been put off by login issues. I’d like very much to get this resolved for everyone. To do this most effectively I really need to know when this is still affecting users so I’d encourage anyone who is still encountering problems to just leave a "me too" with details of which browser you’re using in the "feedback forum":http://network.nature.com/groups/G3B317A5F/forum/topics/8260?page=2#reply-25248. This would be very helpful.
    Richard, I want only to reiterate that we listen to the bloggers at all times, not just when you’re upset. If the communication about the Fourth Paradigm blog left you with questions, you were (and still are) welcome to raise them on the forum – it was precisely why we let everyone know about it, so that you could provide feedback before the blog goes live. Open communication is very important to us, but please also understand that we’re having to balance this against being very busy working to move things forwards. 
    I’ll continue the discussions about the Fourth Paradigm blog back on the forum where the topic was originally raised.

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