Amara: please address severe longstanding issues

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Claude Almansi

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Jun 5, 2013, 6:45:46 PM6/5/13
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Dean explained, in his April 18, 2013 comment to the "Amara Blues" thread, how work on the new editor makes it difficult for Amara staff to respond to issues raised in the help forum, granted.

Nevertheless, some of these issues are longstanding and severe. Students of the online Laboratorio di tecnologie internet per la scuola #LTIS13 , a Italian University Line, a workshop for teachers about using internet technologies in schools organized by Professor Andreas Formiconi, immediately got hit by two of these issues in a subtitling activity I coordinate, but they concern far more users than these students.

1. No control over what gets transfered in the Amara-YouTube syncing process

One very keen participant started subtitling before I had time to post info in Italian about the subtitling activity. She mistook the banner promoting the syncing for an alternative way to sign up, and synced her YouTube account, without understanding what is entailed by the lack of control over what gets transfered in the syncing process. I explained that to her, and how to unsync her YouTube account. She did. And then I had to add a special warning against the syncing in the description of the subtitling activity, lest others make the same mistake.

That makeshift solution is OK within this Italian online lab, whose goal is to make teachers feel confident in using online tools, and develop their capacity to work around issues. But having to add such a public caveat (as the lab is a MOOC, everything is done publicly) does not exactly enhance Amara's image.

However, that's minor.

A major issue is the number of deletion requests that stem from this absence of control over the Amara-YouTube syncing process. More about the deletion requests in point 3, but Amara should really give non-paying users the same control over this transfer that paying users have: over the Amara-YouTube transfer, NOT over the subtitling itself.

Moreover, Amara should also provide clear information on how to undo this syncing:

  • in the the popup that opens when the promotional banner is clicked,
  • in the tutorial about the syncing,
  • in users' account page.

 Presently people - including Jules Rincón who used one of her YouTube videos for the screenshot illustrating the tutorial about the syncing - are making their YouTube videos private, or even deleting them in an attempt to stop the syncing's effect, instead of just stopping the syncing.

2. Software bug that mucks up other subtitles when one set of subtitles is updated by upload or rolled back

Although this bug has been reported repeatedly since March 2012 - i.e. since when Amara was still Universal Subtitles - and even though it hit one of the World Humanitarian Day videos that Amara had undertaken to subtitle for the UN, it remains unfixed. See its description, which includes the instances I know of, in the help forum.

It affected the Italian subtitles of one of the #ltis13 participants was working on after a few hours, when someone updated by upload the Portuguese, Brazilian subtitles of the same video, as well as all the other translated subtitles in progress. In the case of the Chinese, traditional subtitles, they completely disappeared from the navbar, because one of the subtitlers attempted a rollback to a former revision (emptied by the bug), in the hope to retrieve a translation interface.
As the other subtitlers were all members of the Captions Requested team, I was able to use Amara messaging to explain what had happened, and how to retrieve the Chinese, Traditional subs, which are now back. And I made a new post in Italian about the bug for the participants in the #ltis13 subtitling activity. The affected participant explained in response that when she saw the changed subtitling interface, she didn't understand and thought she must have done something wrong
until she read my post about the bug.
She had found her own workaround to continue translating from the original subs and not just from the video, and decided to finish this way. But there are probably heaps translated subtitle sets in progress that get abandoned when this bug hits and the subtitlers don't understand what happened.

So Amara developers should eliminate this old devastating bug NOW. Or, if they don't want to do that before the new interface is ready, they should:
  • make sure it is not conveyed in the new interface, as it has already survived several updates
  • in the meantime, add a warning about the bug at the opening of the translation interface.

3. Mouldy "DMCA takedown request" April Fool

The lack of any moderation possibility in the Amara-YouTube syncing for non paying users (see issue 1) provoked a surge of video take-down requests in the Removing subtitles or videos thread started by Jules Rincón, especially after Amara started touting it around in February. Though people who did that syncing agreed to let Amara completely manage their YouTube account, many didn't understand that the Amara software would also create public, search-engine indexable subtitling pages for their unlisted videos (and perhaps private ones?).
By the time Jules left Amara on March 1st, there were already outstanding removal requests for thousands of videos.
Instead of fixing the issue, Amara staff ignored the help forum completely, then they just made a foray on April 1st to change the wording of Jules' first post in that
Removing subtitles or videos thread, stating that video removals would only be granted if a DMCA takedown request was presented.
This makes absolutely no sense. Of all the video removal requests in that thread or elsewhere in the forum, reviewed by Jules Rincón or neglected after her departure, stemming from the Amara-YouTube syncing or from other reasons, most were perfectly justified, but not a single one would qualify for a DMCA takedown request.

The DMCA takedown request procedure is in bad taste per se, without Amara making a stupid April Fool about it. And by now, this April Fool has largely outstunk its sell-by: therefore Amara must stop it and reinstate the former deletion request procedure..

Joly MacFie

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Jun 6, 2013, 2:38:04 AM6/6/13
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I endorse Claude's concerns, and interestedly await a detailed response.

j


On Wednesday, June 5, 2013 6:45:46 PM UTC-4, Claude Almansi wrote:
Dean explained, in his April 18, 2013 comment to the "Amara Blues" thread, how work on the new editor makes it difficult for Amara staff to respond to issues raised in the help forum, granted.

Nevertheless, some of these issues are longstanding and severe.

<snip> 

Dean Jansen

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Jun 6, 2013, 2:59:36 PM6/6/13
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Hi Claude,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and frustrations out in the open – this is a good process and keeps everyone on this list up to date.

We're still working on the new editor/data model (and have come quite a ways on the timeline mode), which you can check out here (make an account, edit or create subtitles and then click the link in the legacy editor sidebar to launch beta subtitle editor *note: you must have saved the subtitles and have everything synced to switch in this demo*). We anticipate releasing this in the next week or so. This should clear up many of the issues you raise about rolling back and uploading.

The YouTube behavior is pretty clearly stated for anyone signing up. If someone accidentally adds syncing, they can go to their account tab in their profile to undo the syncing. I agree with your documentation suggestion and we'll add instructions on how to unsync when we have a chance.

Finally, we're understaffed in the community support department, at the moment, and don't have resources to reinstate the earlier policy of reviewing every delete request. I hope that us resolving the issues you brought up about uploading and rolling back will help alleviate this,  and for anyone needing to forward people to another video, they can add a hyperlink to the new Amara page in the description.

If you (or anyone else on this list) have other proactive suggestions for the deletion issue, that involve community moderation or simple adjustments to the platform, we're definitely open to them.

Best,
Dean

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Claude Almansi

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Jun 6, 2013, 9:59:03 PM6/6/13
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Thank you for your reply, Dean.

Between your lines:

On Thursday, June 6, 2013 8:59:36 PM UTC+2, Dean Jansen wrote:
Hi Claude,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and frustrations out in the open – this is a good process and keeps everyone on this list up to date.

Well, I didn't have much choice, did I? No feedback in the help forum and no feedback either from Amara admins of the teams to whose members I sent Amara messages about these issues.

We're still working on the new editor/data model (and have come quite a ways on the timeline mode), which you can check out here (make an account, edit or create subtitles and then click the link in the legacy editor sidebar to launch beta subtitle editor *note: you must have saved the subtitles and have everything synced to switch in this demo*).We anticipate releasing this in the next week or so.

If you do without a proper betatesting announced on top of all Amara pages, as big as - and replacing - the present ad for YT syncing, i.e. a betatesting with a proper, publicly browsable system for reporting  issues and bugs, AND someone answering questions on the help forum,  be ready for a big migration to other subtitling platforms.
The new editor is as promising as when you linked to http://dev.amara.org/en/auth/login/ for it on April 18 in the Amara Blues thread, but also as actually unusable for non developers:
  • Testing the new editor on http://editor-syncing.demo.amara.org/en/videos/q5qj4e6x8ysD/en/9/  with WebAIM's WAVE yields 135 accessibility errors - and they count the hidden links only as alerts - as against 4 for the old editor on the same subs.
  • The "Begin now" and "End now" controls to set the start and end of subs only show when the video is playing instead of being listed with the other controls top left. So when you enter the editor, you wonder how you can do anything else than navigate the video. 
  • They don't work anyway, neither with the arrow keys (well, that doesn't work on Macs in the old editor either, true), but  nor when you click them.
More in general, moving from the separate pages for transcribing and for syncing in the old editor, to a single page for doing both is not cognitively obvious. And the ******* javascript link on "Learn more or leave feedback." only opens the same new editor in another tab, instead of leading to what it says. Please keep javascript stuff for links that do things, not for links that lead to info.


This should clear up many of the issues you raise about rolling back and uploading.

True, I've been able to do a rollback without triggering the bug. But the bug does not hit at every rollback in the present Amara either.
 

The YouTube behavior is pretty clearly stated for anyone signing up. If someone accidentally adds syncing, they can go to their account tab in their profile to undo the syncing. I agree with your documentation suggestion and we'll add instructions on how to unsync when we have a chance.

Try to look at the banner from the viewpoint of someone new to Amara especially if with imperfect command of English: it's extremely easy to mistake it for the way to create a new account, as happened to the teacher I mentioned. And if the YouTube behavior were "pretty clearly stated" (apart from the fact that it is only stated in English), there wouldn't be so many video deletion requests in the help forum, nor complaints elsewhere about Amara "spamming"  YT videos.

If you insist on keeping the banner, then link it to the tutorial about the syncing, not to the syncing process itself.

Finally, we're understaffed in the community support department, at the moment, and don't have resources to reinstate the earlier policy of reviewing every delete request. I hope that us resolving the issues you brought up about uploading and rolling back will help alleviate this,  and for anyone needing to forward people to another video, they can add a hyperlink to the new Amara page in the description.

Been there, done that. But the description doesn't show when the Amara player is embedded in a page.

If you (or anyone else on this list) have other proactive suggestions for the deletion issue, that involve community moderation or simple adjustments to the platform, we're definitely open to them.
 
Enable users to delete:
  • a subtitle set when they are the only subtitler and no other subtitle sets are translated from it
    • otherwise, the deletion request should go to a publicly usable repository,   where other users whom the deletion would affect can OK it (or not).
  • a video subtitling page they've opened when there are no subtitles by others for the video

When a video's language is wrongly set (many deletion requests stem from that kind of mistake)

  • enable the user who made the mistake to correct it
  • let other users make a correction request directly to Amara staff - and act on such requests

Best,

Claude

Claude Almansi

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Jun 14, 2013, 6:41:27 AM6/14/13
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Re:


On Thursday, June 6, 2013 8:59:36 PM UTC+2, Dean Jansen wrote:
(...)

We're still working on the new editor/data model (and have come quite a ways on the timeline mode), which you can check out here (make an account, edit or create subtitles and then click the link in the legacy editor sidebar to launch beta subtitle editor *note: you must have saved the subtitles and have everything synced to switch in this demo*).We anticipate releasing this in the next week or so.
 
(...)

Over a week has gone by, and the editor has not been released. Nor are there any sign of Amara organizing a beta-testing by users, as I suggested in my former reply. So I've proposed on the help forum that users do that beta-testing themselves. See Let's beta-test the imminent new subtitle editor before it is released.

Dean Jansen

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Jun 14, 2013, 11:40:42 AM6/14/13
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Hi Claude,

Thanks for taking charge and getting that beta-test post up. We can put a notice on the top of the Amara site for today if you'd like to get a little more traffic to the post – let me know. The new editor is still very much in beta, so what you see is still under heavy development.

We are done with the data model and are basically ready to launch, but are waiting on a few partners to make the necessary confirmation tests and modifications to ensure a smooth transition. We don't have an exact date, but are pushing to launch as soon as possible.

--Dean

Claude Almansi

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Jun 14, 2013, 4:21:52 PM6/14/13
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Hi Dean

Thanks for the offer to put a notice on top of the Amara site - but I launched this "users' beta-test" of the editor because you'd written about releasing it "next week" (i.e.this week now). But if the release is not all that imminent, maybe your OKing the idea on the help forum would be enough, for now. I'd hate to take the announcement space away from the Louisiana Channell: they really have stunning videos.

I suppose the data model you mention is something strictly of the enterprise part? In that case I don't want to meddle. But if it is likely to affect subtitling in any way, please also consult us crowdsourced folks. Some enterprise customers are very knowledgeable about collaborative subtitling, but not all are. So if they take a decision that negatively affects it, they'd be shooting their own foot - and Amara's.

Best,

Claude

Dean Jansen

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Jun 17, 2013, 10:01:08 AM6/17/13
to universal-subt...@googlegroups.com, Claude Almansi
Hi Claude,

We hope to be launching imminently, although at this point we're waiting on a few critical thumbs up's from organizations who are doing their final testing.

The new data model is what makes the new editor possible, so it's something that's going to benefit all users and all videos on Amara. The new editor will initially be available side-by-side with the current editor, so we'll have time to gather feedback from all users on Amara. It will take some time to fully realize all the capabilities of the new editor and collaboration model, but many of the concerns you've raised about tension between team video policies and individual video policies will be resolved. This will really start to take effect when we remove the task system from teams.

Also, thanks for the heads up on the Louisiana Channel issue – we're working to resolve it.

Best,
Dean

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