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Scrabbling for Mastery

a patzer's journey

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Dealing with criticism
me again
I haven't made a whole lot of personal posts lately, but this one is a little more personal than usual.

Yesterday my Zyzzyva Lite app was finally approved by Apple and made available in the App Store. It was a pretty awesome day, at least until about 6:45, but that's another story. I sent out a gazillion emails and got a lot of response, almost all of it positive.

But of course, a negative review is what's really sticking in my mind. I woke up this morning to find an extremely negative iTunes review by "TS" who said that the release was "FAR premature", inadequate for even an initial alpha release; the Zyzzyva Lite UI is horrible and looks like it was written by a school kid; you should get Zarf if you want a real app; and she would give Zyzzyva Lite zero stars if she could. Ouch.

What's interesting to me is observing my own reaction in the few hours since I woke up this morning and read this review. Immediately I was shocked, but within a few seconds I tried to laugh it off. There will always be people who say negative things. That's a fact of life. Move on.

But of course I couldn't just let it go like that. My thoughts turned to questioning who this TS person is and why she would write such a negative review, especially of a free app. Is she the Zarf guy's buddy? Does she not like the fact that I raised money for Zyzzyva? What's her angle? Pretty quickly I determined that these questions are irrelevant if they actually have answers, and if they don't have answers then there is no reason to worry about them anyway.

Finally I started to think about her criticisms. Was she right? In some ways I think her criticisms are fair. The UI is not polished, and it does lack some features that Zarf has, like the ability to sort and group and pinch to zoom. It probably does look like it was written by a school kid, since I didn't do much to make it particularly pretty, just functional. Even as I write this description, the urge to make justifications is irresistible. I can't go without mentioning that Zyzzyva Lite has features that Zarf lacks: custom lexicons, lexicon symbols, inner hooks, multiple search conditions. But the fact is that her criticisms about the UI are correct.

I think some justification on my part is fair as well. I won't go into more justifications here, but believe me, there are plenty of them. I know what I've gone through to create Zyzzyva Lite. I know the reasons why the app is what it is. I also know it will be improving. Mostly I'm proud of the fact that it exists.

Most people are not good at handling criticism, myself included. But I want to be good at it. What do I tell my kids to do when they want to be good at something? Practice, practice, practice. So I'm happy to accept criticism, because I need the practice. I also realize that my success in life and the quality of my products depends a lot on how well I handle criticism and use it to improve myself and my work.

So now I'm entering a stage of accepting the criticism while at the same time remaining puzzled at the extreme negative language. The way it was written, the review still feels like it was intended to be hurtful more than helpful. It might just feel that way because my app is the one being criticized. It's fascinating to watch my own reaction while trying to be as objective as I can, which is of course impossible. I don't know TS or her intentions, but she's done me a favor by demonstrating that not everything is a cause for celebration. Nevertheless I'm celebrating anyway, and now it's time to get back to work.

P.S. Whether you agree with TS's assessment or not, please do leave a review of Zyzzyva Lite on iTunes. I really appreciate all feedback. Thanks!

P.P.S. If you would like to see screenshots of the Zyzzyva Lite app for yourself, you can do so on the Zyzzyva iPhone page.

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you've contributed far more than nearly anybody to the development of tournament scrabble. most of us would be nowhere near as proficient as we are now without your program. And most importantly, your program has and shall continue to, provide us all with hours of endless enjoyment.

thanks is all I have to say!

I really must buy a cell phone soon though...

Thanks! It's my pleasure to do it. :-)

Screw her. Haters gonna hate.

See, this is the kind of reaction I wish I could stick with. Instead I tend to overanalyze.

Something to keep in mind with user-submitted reviews and feedback in general is that people are more likely to write about things they don't like and want to change than mere 'well done' type feedback. Teacher evaluations are similar; I know this both as a current university student and as a TA.

Another thing to consider: if you're not being criticized or you don't have haters, you're probably shooting too low with whatever you're doing in life in general. Accept criticism as a sign that you're creating change, which people are naturally resistant to.

These are great points, and I'm going to keep them in mind going forward. Thank you!

Echo Jesse. I rarely hear a peep if I do a good drawing, but I feel like I get shat on every time I get a revision for handing in something somebody doesn't like. Worse, the people who dish out the revisions probably couldn't draw a good stick man. There are days I want to contact the people who send me bullshit revisions and tell them to draw the revisions themselves - I'm going for a beer. It's especially awful if you're making something extra beyond your regular work day, and someone cuts it up. Don't worry about it. I think everyone here knows how much you've contributed to Scrabble in general. Keep up the good work. Waiting for the Zyzzyva Heavy app, with the quiz features.

Although I generally don't care what other people think of me (as long as I think I'm acting correctly), I've learned never to read the crossword blogs to see reviews of my work. Even if 99 people out of 100 loved a puzzle, I will obsess about the one person who hated it, even if their reasoning is in error (not understanding the theme, etc).

Life is better when I just do my best work and hope that people enjoy what I do.

I totally hear you. I do this, too. I'm a people pleaser and I try to make everyone happy... which I now remember Bill Cosby said is the key to failure. All I can do is my best, and I'm going to keep it up.

I will admit that my sensitivity to criticism is what ultimately led me to retire (for now) from directing tournaments. Even though almost nothing went wrong during the three tournaments I directed, I always took blame personally when someone wasn't pleased about something. I knew that came with the territory going in, but I just felt the need to direct at least once after being the directee for this many years.

This reminds me of a Marge Simpson quote: "Anyone who beats you up for wearing a shirt isn't your friend." Thank goodness she was talking to Bart.

I do that, too, and I'm trying to get better at not doing it. I know it's not my job to please everyone, but I still feel like I've failed when I don't.

More likely than not, this TS is affiliated in some way with Zarf. And thus, s/he is threatened by you.

I *REALLY* like Jesse's advice best, so, echoing it. If you haven't pissed someone off, you're not doing it right. Keep doing what you're doing. Innovating and all. And just look at yourself and ask what is true and what is sour grapes, and use that to improve. I haven't seen it.

Side note, now that I have your attention:

For a future version if Zyzzyva, maybe load anamonics and have quizzes for those along with anagrams. I was talking to Gibson in Asheville and was reminded of his having one for EVERY seven letter word, and pretty much knowing them. It takes work to keep 'em all up of course, and he's said otherwise he wouldn't know how he'd get by. So for someone else wanting true mastery of those words (that aren't "lonely"), that's one option.

There was something else, but it's slipped my mind. Keep up the good work. It's gotta be somewhat satisfying and validating to know just how much you've changed this subculture.

on a tangent....

during CSW study whenever i see GIBSONED* it immediately triggers the real CSW word in that rack (which i never see first).

Thanks! The anamonics quiz idea was one of the first things on my to-do list about six years ago. I do plan to do that at some point. Like so many other useful features, it's kept getting buried under even more useful and urgent things. But it's still on the list!

Well, of course, if you post something like this to your LJ where all your friends are, you know what kind of responses you're going to get. Make no mistake -- just like everyone else, I love the desktop version of Zyzzyva, and I'm intrigued to see what you're going to do with this project. But I don't have an iPhone, so I haven't seen your app. And, unlike Ryan, I don't think it's necessary to postulate sabotage-by-Zarf to explain one bad review (which isn't to say it's not possible.) I mean, I'm not too surprised that someone who doesn't know you and your work would leave a negative review based on a first release without knowing the context of the project and the relatively small amount of time you've been working on it.

Call me a perfectionist, but I think your self-assessment, while harsh, is productive. If I've improved at anything in life, it's largely because I've been fortunate enough to get reasonable external criticism, and kept calm enough to evaluate it in the context of what I can meaningfully do about it, and whether I should. But, of course, all of us are invested in making sure you don't give up on your projects, because regardless of the quality of one particular release you have a proven track record of making useful stuff. And I would take all the encouraging comments in that light.

Actually, I wasn't sure what response the blog post would get, and I appreciate the whole range of responses. I especially like your response, which essentially reinforces the idea that I need to evaluate the criticism for what it's worth, and rationally decide what to do about it. I totally agree with that.

I think my conclusion is that the UI does need work, and that I do need to implement sorting and grouping functions to make search more useful. Those are true and helpful criticisms. However, I disagree that the release was far premature, or that the app is essentially useless. Those kinds of comments are not only ridiculously extreme but factually incorrect.

The negative reviewer did describe herself as "an old user of Zyzzyva" so I'm not sure what she was expecting or how the app fell so far short. I'm not too worried about that, but I do appreciate even the negative feedback and will incorporate it to make the app better.

Don't have a smartphone yet and haven't seen your new app at all yet, so I think I can speak with complete objectivity and detachment on it.

If you put things out there on the internet, you're going to be criticized. That's a fact of life, and you've got to learn to accept it. It can be hard to deal with it at first, but with more time you'll develop a thicker skin.

It's quite possible that her criticisms are full of shit and can be ignored completely, but if you really want to use her comments in a positive way, then you've got to take the time to sift out her negative emotional reactions, which have nothing to do with you, from specific points about the functionality or appearance of the app. If there are concrete things you can take away from her criticism that can help you make the app even better, then she has actually given you a gift, even if she hasn't done it in the nicest way possible.

I totally agree with everything you said. I don't have a thick skin but I'm working on it! I really do appreciate the negative feedback even if it's wrapped in comically extreme language. Without negative feedback I would never know how other people think my work needs to improve.

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