New suggestions forum

Inform 7 has a new uservoice forum for suggestions.

What it’s good for
The uservoice forum is meant to collect suggestions and feedback people have about what might be included in future builds of Inform, and also a bit of a record of what we’ve said about certain suggestions in the past. It is not a place to post bugs; those will be tracked separately elsewhere, because bug reports require more and different types of data. It is also not a place to ask for technical support, which is better served by the intfiction forum.

How it works
Anyone can add new suggestions to the forum, vote for suggestions made by other users, or comment on suggestions. Each user has a total of 10 votes to assign, of which up to three votes can be used on a given suggestion. That means you can give three votes to “Implement a flying pony made of coffee ice cream in the Standard Rules” if that really floats your boat, and just one to “Create three-way relations”.

If one of the suggestions you voted for is closed — either by being completed or by being declined — you receive back the votes to assign to something else. You can also un-vote for things if you change your mind or decide your priorities lie elsewhere. If you want, you can choose to receive email about the status of the suggestions you voted for, so you’ll know if they receive a response.

We have started off the forum with suggestions from our email and from all previous consultation documents. We’ve also been adding an informal system of tags, in parentheses. The most common tags are “syntax” (suggestions for adding specific phrases to the language), “parsing” (recommendations about how to read and interpret player commands), “world model” (things to change about the way the Standard Rules track the behavior of the world), “output” (tricks for modifying what Inform prints in various situations), “IDE” (issues with the behavior of the IDE), “documentation” (comments on the built-in manual), and “website” (suggestions for the behavior of the Inform website). You are encouraged, but not required, to use these. The idea is to make it easier for people (including ourselves) to get a view of everything that’s currently under discussion for a given aspect of the program.

What it offers
The strengths of the uservoice forum from our point of view are these:

  • More transparent tracking of the suggestions people have made and the answers they’ve received in the past.
  • More comprehensible data. One of the difficulties about suggestion discussions in unspecialized forums (especially RAIF, which is unmoderated, but even the intfiction forum) is that it’s not always easy to figure out which suggestions enjoy widespread support and which are strongly desired by a few people. The voting mechanism should help us track that information.
  • More visibility to the non-usenet world. This is part of a general move away from using the traditional interactive fiction usenet groups, towards communication venues that will be more familiar and more visible to users from other backgrounds.
  • Built-in spam protection and other moderation filters that we don’t have to work to maintain ourselves.

What it doesn’t offer
This probably doesn’t need pointing out, but this forum does not guarantee that suggestions, even highly rated ones, will be carried through; there are some that are inevitably going to be too hard to implement, too incompatible with the existing nature of the system, contrary to Inform’s essential vision, or otherwise impractical for reasons that may not be obvious.

Why we’re going this route now when we didn’t before
Users have been asking for some kind of suggestion forum for a long time. The issue up to this point is that we’d largely been thinking in terms of a self-hosted phpBB or similar bulletin board system, and we felt that this was unlikely to work well. We weren’t happy about solutions that would require extensive setup and moderation, because these would be a further drain on the limited time we have to spend on Inform. Moreover, the data we did receive from general-purpose forums was welcome, but tended to be complex and hard to untangle into feedback we could act on — there were lots of suggestions and counter-suggestions, but they didn’t always present a clear picture of how many users were really concerned about a given issue or what solution the majority preferred. Sorting through that kind of discussion was something we only had time for periodically, when we produced new consultation documents.

We are hoping that the combination of voting and moderation tools offered by uservoice will address the issues we saw in other types of forum. It wasn’t until we encountered uservoice that we felt there was appropriate technology for what we wanted to do. (There probably was, in fact. We just didn’t know about it.)