Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Relationship Problem

I just finished about 15 pages of emails, mostly to Andrew McGregor (who is the very first MeshTool user) and also Benedikt Stratmann (whose x737 is on the bleeding edge of plugin-based aircraft) and AlpilotX (we all know about his forests). Probably all three are wondering how the hell I have time to write so much on weekends. (The answer is of course that my frisbee game got rained out. Foo!)

In the meantime, probably about 300 other people who have emailed me in the last few
months are wondering why the hell they have heard nothing from me. My in-box looks like a mail server exploded. It's not pretty.

So let me blog for a moment about the "relationship problem". Simply put, there are two of us (Austin and myself) and about a thousand of you (third party developers doing cool and interesting things with X-Plane) plus significantly more users, some of whom have some very weird tech support problems.

In this environment, our algorithm for who gets "developer attention" is pretty broken and subject to total thrash...there is a huge element of random luck (who emails me when I am recompiling the sim vs. debugging a nasty bug).

I'm aware of both how hard the task Austin and I face and how frustrating it is for a third party developer because I've been on both sides. Before I worked for LR, I was a third party and I was always astounded that Austin couldn't remember what we talked about last week.

Then I started working for the company and saw what it's like. Imagine sitting at a train station watching the trains go by* (at full speed, not stopping) and someone says "last week I waved to you out the window and you waved back, remember me?"

So I would advise three things to the neglected third party:
  1. Be firm - you may need to ping us again because at busy times we can't always keep track of who has asked for what.
  2. Be patient - if you need something the week we're burning DVD masters for a second time (because the first set failed at the factory) then you're going to have to wait.
  3. Don't take it personally...a lack of a response usually indicates overload inside the company, not a poor opinion of your work!
This blog post has rambled enough, but it may feed well into the next one.

* This analogy is totally stolen from "How Doctors Think" by Jerome Groopman - he uses it to describe the task of primary care physicians trying to spot the early signs of a very rare illness among a fast-moving train of patients who are almost entirely healthy. I strongly recommend this book particularly for Americans - we need to understand the forces at work in shaping the quality of our medical care!

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