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The Great Blender Survey Results: The News Behind The News

Date/Time Permalink: 11/14/10 04:11:27 pm
Category: Reviews

I'm pretty happy to see the Great Blender Survey results, because they indicate a lot of what my gut feeling has been saying for years, but I never had any concrete data to correlate.

Like Gimp, Blender has been a favorite kicking dog of proprietary software zealots online. Like Gimp, one cannot merely mention the name "Blender" on certain forums such as Slashdot and Digg without being immediately tackled by hordes of flaming trolls descending out of the woodwork. Where do they come from? Why are they so persistent? And so fast - it's like there's a whole office building of servers with scripts running an automated Google search every minute to catch every mention of Gimp or Blender so they can go flame it. You could go to the middle of the Sahara desert and write "Blender" in the sand with a stick, and here comes a helicopter over the horizon to drop three paratrooper-trolls...

I never understood this. I don't use 3DMax or Bryce, and guess how many 3DMax and Bryce forums I have visited and posted in? Zero. The fact that people have nothing better to do than to follow a free program around the Internet every day of their lives just to flame about how they don't use it should tell you something.

Anyway, first there's the demographics. Users (responders to the survey, anyway) are 98% male, about 50% fresh out of high school or college, and have been using it for less than a year. Notice anything familiar? That just about describes the whole social web, at least as far as the parts that concern themselves with technology go. Females are sorely missing from the picture here. I've hung around Deviant Art long enough to know that female graphic artists are more common than that. Whether we're seeing a lack of female 3D designers, female FOSS users, or a combination of both, is a discussion for another day.

Intermediate and hobby use is the overwhelming response for use cases. So if you use it professionally and feel like you're left out of the loop a lot of the time, that's a clue.

For reasons "Why did you start using Blender?" about half say "it was free." Well, yes, if you're a male, 14-year-old intermediate-level hobbyist, sure, you'll try anything if it's free.

Here's what I'm getting at: For years, the complaints about FOSS programs, Blender included, have been stereotyped into a narrow-range of never-fail troll comments. And now what this survey is telling us is that the buzz must have been skewed terribly all this time. Because here comes the nut of the matter in question 10: "What aspect of Blender needs the most improvement?"

"User interface" came in seventh. Seventh!

Because that's all I ever hear, day in and day out, for years and years and years about Blender, is the interface. And the Blender team has been jerking like puppets on a string, rebuilding the interface with every release. Every time they do this, whole swaths of prior documentation and tutorials get flushed down the drain. The instructions that say "push this button to do this" suddenly become useless when the button got moved somewhere else.

Oh, I hope we can all learn from this example, boys and girls. I told you there was something fishy about the interface flames. When I did, I was pointing to Gimp, not Blender, but the two suffer the same undeserved bad publicity, and I indicated as much about Blender when I was talking about Gimp. In fact, in posts like Interface Obsession Syndrome, I've been beating this tired old drum for years.

The next data point is even more telling: The main problems everyone sees in Blender amount to 100% communication issues. Documentation is designers and users communicating how to use the software, publicity is the community communicating to the outside world, training is communication between experienced veterans and new users, and the rest of it seems to say that the communication everybody's hearing so far is strained.

Let me show you what the crazy man is ranting about.

See this link? Blender Tutorial - Basic UV Mapping. Just today I wanted to try putting Minecraft textures onto the sides of cubes in Blender and voila - I'd have a way to build Minecraft objects without even having to run the game. Then I could go on inventing my own objects, and perhaps either inject new ideas back into the community, or have a way to quickly plan out building designs to try in Minecraft later, or what the heck, maybe reinvent Minecraft's object-building capabilities for the Linux-native desktop without fussing around with a proprietary game built for the Windows desktop first using a proprietary language which is now controlled by a big mean ogre. Isn't that a great idea?

Minecraft Blender block render test

Except mapping images to an object in Blender is, like everything, rocket science, so like any typical doof I have to Google for tutorials to do anything in Blender and that's a good one I pulled up. Notice the quality of that tutorial - it's clear, it doesn't lose you in a thicket of jargon, and it has a screenshot for every step. It's very rare that you find a tutorial of this quality, so specifically written for exactly what you want to do.

So, follow the steps. Split the window, OK, that still works. Set one window to UV/image editor, check, that works too. Now switch the cube's display to the 'UV Face Select' mode.

Well? What's wrong? Cat got your tongue? It should be there, right between 'Vertex Mode' and 'Sculpt Paint.' But it ain't.

They changed that between 2.45 and 2.48. You find that out only after some more frustrated searching all over the web, discovering, through sheer luck, that the entry got "merged" into something I probably don't want to use and also, hitting 'U' will get the 'UV calculation mode' - which, I had to discover, only happens when you're already in 'edit' mode.

That's me, and I'm an experienced, salty veteran. You know what you've just done to a new adopter? You made them go crazy. You didn't just insult them or frustrate them - you literally, actually made the user go stark, raving crazy from not knowing what the flaming hell is going on. There's the menu, there's the screen, the buttons all in the same place, everything looks as it should be! You keep opening the menu over and over again to see if the entry is going to show up! You close your file and start Blender again, in case you accidentally hit some button that put it in "make random menu items disappear mode"! And so on.

You also just wasted the tutorial author's time. All that work, down the shitter. I think whoever changed that feature should go look up the author of that tutorial at switchonthecode.com and pay him or her a fee to hire a writer to redo the tutorial plus pay them a further settlement to compensate them for their wasted time and inconvenience.

No, wait, back up. It should be written right in the software license: going forward, ANY CHANGE to the UI should be submitted as an RFC to a standards committee, with thorough documentation as to why changing it is the only solution to the problem at hand, with screenshots, with diagrams, with user-case studies, with signatures from the developers proposing the change, with requisition forms filled out in triplicate carbon copies ratified by the cosigning signatures of no less than three charter members of the organizations that have sponsored the development of Blender, and then said committee must post a public vote on the Internet and collect and tally votes for a full year, and if a three-fourths majority approve the change, it is allowed to take place but it must be announced and documented on video uploaded to YouTube and Richard Stallman has to personally come and supervise the coding session that day. It must also be added to the 'help' menu, under IMPORTANT UI ELEMENTS THAT HAVE CHANGED IN THE PAST DECADE - at the top of the menu.

That's just what UI changes could use. A little red tape to slow them down.

Hey, remember, this is all in the name of "attracting new users to Blender." You know, that's you people's Holy Grail. I could care a rat's hat. This happens every single solitary time I use Blender to do anything at all. I can deal with it. But since I'm experienced, I could go take a long walk on a short pier. But please, in the name of New Users, do not make them crazy.

End example of what the crazy man is ranting about.

So getting back to the Great Blender Survey, scrolling to the end, what's the first action plan proposed by the survey-taker? They hold up their Don-Norman-blessed edition of Don't Make Me Think and start chattering about changing the interface on the website, as if the whole survey just went through them like chili through a cat.

Somewhere, there's a planet where somebody saw the result of this survey and said, "They should just quit obsessing about interfaces for awhile and just leave them alone. If they did that, every other problem would fix itself in five years."

That's the planet I should have been born on. But I missed and hit Earth instead, damn all of you.

And for all the fans of Don't Make Me Think, the French have a great invention to help you to stop thinking. It's the guillotine. It's designed to rid you of the troublesome organ that does the thinking.

Space Ghost and his coffee

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