Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I love GATE users (though I couldn't eat a whole one).

Users. A bit of a nuisance. They insist on asking questions, testing limits, finding bugs. Around 5 years ago, after something like a decade of giving away software, the GATE team felt very like our old systems administrator, who had a habit of saying "the only secure network is one without any computers attached": we knew that our user community was a good idea in principle, but we really rather wished they'd all leave us alone. In fact we did our best to discourage GATE users: we stopped doing regular releases, we ignored the mailing list, and if we could have figured out how to take the thing out in the woods and bury it under a tree we probably would have.

We failed: GATE refused to die, people obstinately continued to use it, and, as we used it ourselves for all sorts of projects, more and more features were added, quality and functionality improved, and every time we decided it was all over someone would turn up with a pile of cash and a novel problem. So we conceded defeat and resolved to succeed. I think.

This is all a long-winded way of explaining our shift in emphasis over the past year or so: we are introverts no longer, but happy and well-adjusted user-friendly liveware. Text processing for ever! Forwards to world domination comrades! Oops, wrong blog.

So now we're back to actively supporting our users and growing our community. We've upgraded the documentation, we're running regular training weeks and developer sprints, and we've built up several new products and services around the core GATE code to cater for more of the cases we've seen of people trying to deploy text processing over the years (15 of which, incredibly, have passed under the bridge since we first set metaphorical pen to digital paper for GATE version 0.1). We've also revamped the website and no longer look like something that might have been produced at CERN circa 1995.

So far the response has been quite astonishingly positive... so perhaps users aren't such a bad thing after all.


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