Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters

It's noticeable that there are no dates in their new "plan" and that they are just now hiring researchers and assistants. I guess we won't see anything for a while.
We did say "within 3 months of getting the investment funding" in the announcement. We'll be posting regular updates from here on out.
 
So let's get this straight. The founder (allegedly) scarpers with the money (including, presumably, the money raised on Kickstarter) and the company sits on that quite crucial information for six months, meanwhile still advertising and selling the, as yet non-existent, product.
 
We did say "within 3 months of getting the investment funding" in the announcement. We'll be posting regular updates from here on out.
I take that to mean you have not yet got the funding. Am I right? I read in the announcement that you have signed a contract with a new investor. Do you have a date when you will receive the new funds? Are there conditions that have to met before the funds are released?
 

Moro

秀才
Well... not what I might've expected. Placing myself in the guys' shoes for a second, this was a very crappy situation with no one good line of behaviour.

Obviously, I'm a bit disappointed that we aren't getting the final product now, but now that I reflect on it, I think I never considered it to be just a straightforward purchase of a dictionary. I've seen guys' videos, read the posts that made clear the passion with which they take this field. Reading Ash and John's bios on the site made me think that is was something that I might've wanted to be doing if I've had another go at life :) : studying Mandarin, moving to Taiwan to study palaeography and other fascinating subjects, making a connection between the academic studies of the language and real-world learners. (I hope in reality it's as living-a-dream'y as it is in my head :) )

So, I'm trying to say that supporting them in this endeavour was an important part of backing the project and (here comes the point of this not-entirely-coherent message) - it still is.
 
Sorry to hear about your troubles. I know now why Mike Love was telling everyone to be patient.
I take that to mean you have not yet got the funding. Am I right? I read in the announcement that you have signed a contract with a new investor. Do you have a date when you will receive the new funds? Are there conditions that have to met before the funds are released?
As Moro says there is no good line of behaviour in this unfortunate circumstance - I think you need to put yourself in their shoes. You can see from their email/post that they are going to go hell for leather to get this done, and if you have seen the demo you will know that this dictionary will be talked about in the same vein as "sliced bread"! ;)
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
Few notes on this on my end:
  • We've known about the situation for a few months now, and the lack of public updates was done with my blessing + encouragement; between the legal dispute and the new investor it seemed to me like an update to the effect of "progress is stalled, Chris took our money, but we're hoping that some combination of a court ruling and/or new investor will let us get moving again" would do a lot more harm than good and likely make it that much more difficult for them to actually get things moving again.
  • New investor is not Pleco or myself; we don't currently have any ownership stake in Outlier.
  • Software-wise, the plan is that this 'mini-version' will be basically just a regular add-on dictionary for the current version of Pleco, so no need to fumble around with beta versions (or be stuck using a buggy beta version of Pleco just to get access to the dictionary you purchased); you'll see a mini Outlier entry among your other items in the DICT tab with a list of / hyperlinks to the entries for each functional component.
  • More comprehensive Outlier integration - letting you use their breakdowns in place of ours in CHARS, support for new formatting features from their demo like tables / sound series, etc - will follow in our next major update, Pleco 4.0, which we're hoping to have out this fall. Still up in the air whether we'll also offer the full version of their dictionary for the current Pleco 3.x, mostly because we haven't yet settled on the system requirements for 4.0; if it leaves a significant number of old devices behind (unlikely on Android but possible on iOS) we'd want to make sure users of those old devices could access the dictionary too. (on the Android side it'll probably still just be Android 4.0 or maybe 4.1 - only 42% of our Android users are on Android 5 or later - but 95% of our iOS users are on iOS 9 and based on past history we expect that by November 80% of them will be on iOS 10, so if Apple gives us a compelling reason to go 10-only we might have to consider it)

    If Outlier's full dictionary is ready before Pleco 4.0 is we've got plans in place to release a "Pleco 3.5" to fully support it - don't want to add any additional delay on our end, obviously - but we're actually feeling pretty good about getting it done in time. (we'd originally been planning to do that 3.5 release anyway before we learned that the dictionary was delayed, but we're now pressing right ahead with 4.0 since 3.5 wasn't really going to offer enough outside of Outlier's dictionary to justify the attendant public beta testing / announcements / etc)
 
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Peter

榜眼
The value of the these words (and yours too Mike!) will be tested in September 2016 when the beta version of the Outlier Dictionary is released.
 

Shun

状元
I think what would really be useful for beginning learners is not a reference, but an actual course of Chinese character formation that they could work through inside Pleco, for example. Having an extensive reference book is a necessary condition for that, though it's probably also overwhelming to most users and should only be the first step. I think making complex information clear, coherent, and easy to understand is always the hardest and most interesting part. I hope someone can pull this off at some point. :)
 

marcelbdt

秀才
It's more that there are so many characters, and many of them have histories which are not obvious. The story of each individual character is probably not so complex. I first learned about such matters from a book by Bernhard Karlgren. The book was deceitfully named "Easy lessons in Chinese Writing", and had a lot of interesting material about particular characters, including many obsolete ones. I think that the author intended it as "Grammata Serica for dummies". One problem with it was that many of the explanations sounded like pure guesses - maybe I'm unfair here, after all Karlgren was a serious scholar. I still have my copy, but the pages are falling apart.

This book had obvious faults from an educational point of view, and today it is probably dated. But I hope that the outlier dictionary will eventually succeed in doing what that old book originally set out to do.
 

Shun

状元
Yes, I'm sure what already helps a great deal are things like:

Characters with

扌are often actions done with the hand
忄and 心 in characters often involve feelings
...

I'm sure there are hundreds of regularities that can also be explained from a deep understanding of characters' histories, that could be very entertaining to read and help a great deal in memorizing. Of course, each character has its own particular history, but there are certainly parallel developments covering a larger number of characters, the knowledge of which would empower the learner. I guess it's the connections between different characters that matter.
 
Promotion is how they raise more money. Which lets them do both a better and a faster job on the production end.
OK I get you up to a point Mike. But I don't recall any particular marketing or promotion effort around Pleco. It was just a great product that sold by word of mouth until it became an indispensable tool for Chinese language learners. There are ways and ways of approaching things. Maybe it's a generational thing. I just think the emphasis is wrong and I don't like hype in general.
 

Shun

状元
I'm generally suspicious of hype, too, but we have to consider that Pleco is the result of the efforts of, basically, one very talented person who could rely on their skills, while Outlier Linguistics has many team members who have yet to prove themselves in this precise field, who couldn't grow organically from a small product but needed to obtain funding before they could even start work. Since there is no risk for us users to get short-changed (as we are not their business partners, except for our Kickstarter pledges), we can just have a good look at the product when it comes out and need not make too many assumptions about the company's character, as we can see only 1% of it through its PR, anyway. :)
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
Pleco was started back when mobile was much smaller; Palm OS programming was so difficult that we were pretty much the only game in town, so we became well-known simply by dint of existing at all; this was also a time when Chinese learning tech was in its infancy in general, we were years away from Skritter or Anki or ChinesePod or any of the other apps / websites that helped to define that market as it exists now. (heck, Pleco pre-dates podcasting itself by several years; the first iPod was launched a few weeks after our first app back in 2001, podcasts only started to take off in 2005 or so when Apple added support for them to iTunes)

Plus, licenses were much much cheaper; there's literally an order of magnitude difference between what we would have to pay up front to license a dictionary or handwriting recognizer or whatever back then and what we would have to pay to license one now, despite the fact that now we have to tithe 30% of our revenue to Apple + Google and our margins are a lot lower even outside of that (royalties are a much higher % of sales).

I didn't need to tap anything but my personal savings (which as a middle-class college student were quite modest) to get Pleco off the ground, but if I wanted to launch something like Pleco now it would take a ton of capital and I would probably likewise need to tap Kickstarter and investors to put that together, and after all that it's far from certain that I would actually end up making a profit. Outlier isn't quite the same project (not much programming involved) but they face most of the same challenges ramping up something as ambitious as what they're trying to do in as crowded / competitive / generally insane market as this is now.
 
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