The Alpha test has been running for well over three weeks now, so it’s high time to give you a little update and let you know what has happened so far, and what will happen shortly. We decided to do it in form of this blog post, written both for people who are awaiting their alpha key, and for users who are currently testing.
First, let us explain one thing. A lot of you have been asking for the alpha key, but for the time being, only a very limited amount of people received invitation. Of course, we’re really happy some people can’t wait for their turn, and we will try to give them a higher priority. After all, one active and involved tester is worth more than ten lurkers.
That’s also an answer to the other question we’ve been getting: why is it so quiet in the alpha system itself? Well, only a tiny fraction of our 16 000 registered testers managed to get their hands on StormDriver so far.
And there’s a good reason for that.
Our system is still a bit unpolished, and we want to have a more user-friendly version running before we decide to let a lot of people in. We also wanted to root out some issues encountered by the first wave of users, that appear only if you have people logging in from all over the world, using a wide array of browsers and platforms.
Let me congratulate all the folks who braved the earliest public build of StormDriver. Many of them provided us with very useful feedback, and it is their ideas we want to work on before we send even more invites.
What we’ve learned so far
It might be worth to note that most users never experienced any issues, but what was the feedback from a group that did? Let’s start with people who thought the system might be a bit overwhelming. Some wrote they just don’t “get” it. They only learned how to make one type of action (like visiting user profile or seeing a page others have shared). They didn’t knew what else they could do or how to do it.
This helped us solve some basic usability issues. It’s also a testimony to how different StormDriver is from most of the current social platforms. The core philosophy is new, so no wonder people who jumped in without any sort of previous research, armed only with knowledge of Twitter and Facebook, sometimes felt confused. Regardless, we aim to be so intuitive, that even a newbie will be able to learn the ropes in just one minute.
To achieve this, we’re bringing in an interactive tutorial. Every time you visit a new subpage of the system, it will pop out to tell you what can you do here and how to do it. It only takes half a minute to go through the tutorial, and then you’ll know everything you need to use the system to its fullest.
Another type of feedback came from people who were watching us from the very start. They read all the blog posts and knew what they signed up for. They often requested new functions, or functions we have not implemented yet. One of those were the user-created content streams, that we described in one of the cookbooks. We’re really happy our users want them, but we still need to solve some issues before we are ready to launch them.
As we’ve mentioned in our previous blog note, some advanced functions are not in alpha yet, and others (like Recommendations and Mingle) might not be working well at times. We need some time to fine-tune them, and that’s also what we’re doing right now.
System activity and plans for the future
Then, there was also a matter of the system activity. The global feed seemed quite desolate at times. And that’s why we’re rolling out another solution. From now on we’ll be adding users in waves. The date of each wave will be announced on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and we will do our best to inform selected people in advance.
Every wave will happen after we deploy a new build of the system. That’s why we will also inform our current active testers about those events. It will be a great opportunity to see the recent improvements, and meet up with a lot of new people in StormDriver. The system is just so much better with full streams of inbound content, and all feeds teeming with user activity.
We’re also working on a solution, that would allow you to invite your friends bypassing the alpha tests queue. We feel it’s important for anyone who wants to experience StormDriver with friends to be able to do so immediately.
Another thing we’re rolling out now is a StormDriver account with special privileges. During the test, we found that if we want to communicate something to our users, the best channel we have is still e-mail or Facebook. And that was not good enough, because our system is full of the communication tools! That’s why we’re coming up with this special account that will be able to send system-wide messages. Soon, you will be able to see important information about the tests and plans in your feed.
That’s it for now. On Monday we have scheduled a deployment of our new build, so if it’s relatively bug-free, we will announce our next “wave” sometime next week. Once again – thanks a lot to everyone who provided us with feedback. None of it was left unheard, and if the next build of the system will be a better one, it’s thanks to your effort!