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Re: Re: Replace and ReplaceAll -- simple application

  • To: mathgroup at smc.vnet.net
  • Subject: [mg106081] Re: [mg106033] Re: Replace and ReplaceAll -- simple application
  • From: danl at wolfram.com
  • Date: Fri, 1 Jan 2010 05:33:09 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <200912270006.TAA12080@smc.vnet.net> <hh72dp$kud$1@smc.vnet.net>

> In article <hhf5kg$go6$1 at smc.vnet.net>,
>  Murray Eisenberg <murray at math.umass.edu> wrote:
>
> [Re documentation issues and I->-I]
>
>> Only gathering usage statistics, or having a focus group of users trying
>> stuff, might suffice to escalate some issues to the point of requiring
>> more prominent warnings.
>
> 1)  Fully agree.  My understanding is that many software vendors (and
> hardware equipment vendors, for that matter), at least the larger ones,
> do exactly this, systematically and extensively, on their products, and
> especially the interfaces to their products.  I have no idea whether
> Wolfram does any of this or not.
>
> 2)  On this point let's note that, to many users, the _interface_ to
> Mathematica -- what the user has to (learn to) type in, to get useful
> results out -- is the most important (and sometimes frustrating?) part
> of the product.
>
> What Mathematica does or can do -- it's "capabilities" as contrasted to
> its interface -- is of course also of primary importance; and
> Mathematica seems to rank very highly on this criterion.  It's the user
> interface where many if not most of these problems arise.
>
> 3)  And let's note the explicit assertions by Conrad Wolfram (in the
> screencasts/video gallery on the Wolfram web site), and by others, that
> Mathematica is intended to be a program that does *all* tasks, for *all*
> users, in a *single* application (with 'all' and 'single' taken very
> broadly).  This means, necessarily:
>
> a)  A *very* complex interface (with, in particular, a _huge_
> vocabulary).
>
> b)  And at the same time, a very broad and diverse set of users, with
> very different levels of education and knowledge and experience.

It pays to keep in mind that very few users require more than a modest
percentage of the functionality of a Mathematica, in order to make it
useful for their work. I probably need to know a bit more than most, and
I'll be generous (to myself) and guess I have working familiarity with
maybe 10 percent of the program's capabilities.


> And this may mean that this basic goal and approach of the Wolframs' for
> Mathematica may not be realistic or possible.   The "focus groups" you
> suggest will have to be very diverse in makeup, corresponding to the
> huge diversity of the proposed users; and each different group of users
> will have different interface (and documentation) needs, and want very
> different things.
>
> If the Wolframs' are going to insist on following this path, then user
> documentation -- easily accessible, brilliantly designed documentation,
> readily available in different forms oriented to the needs of different
> users -- is the primary thing they have to focus on.
>
> Thus far, so far as I can see, Heikki Ruskeepaa may be the only person
> on the planet who recognizes this and does something about it.
> Mathematica's own documentation gets maybe a C- on this score.  And
> simply expecting ordinary users to learn ever more arcane CAS concepts
> and terminology in order to use Mathematica effectively seems as
> unrealistic as it is absurd.

Documentation can always use improvements. That notwithstanding, I have
consistently found that most basic usage of most functionality unfamiliar
to myself is documented sufficiently well that the job at hand can be
done. Obviously I do not know if this holds for all aspects of the
program. And clearly I cannot claim to have the same perspective, in
reading documentation, as a novice user. But from what I have seen e.g. in
work submitted to demonstrations.wolfram.com, users at all levels seem to
figure out what is needed to get the job done.

Something else I'll observe is that nothing in new functionality
development would require users to "learn ever more arcane CAS
concepts..." beyind what earlier Mathematica utilized. This is axiomatic:
nothing requires one to learn about new functionality, because the
functionality of years past is, in the vast majority of cases, unaltered.

The point is that the new development of Mathematica (and other software)
is motivated, often, by perceived needs of existing and potential user
bases. This rarely if ever requires other users to learn the new things in
order to use Mathematica effectively. It simply gives more tools to those
who may wish to use them.

Daniel Lichtblau
Wolfram Research






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