Saturday, September 20, 2014

Seeking Input

Hi everyone,

I'll be participating in the NASPA Advisory Board's monthly conference call next Thursday (9/25).  One of the hot topics of discussion will be the implementation of the TWL3 word list (the tournament version of OSPD5, both of which were released during Nationals in August) for tournament play.  The originally announced plan for implementation was to be December 1 of this year, giving tournament players 3+ months to become familiar with the new words before they become official.

If you follow the NASPA page on Facebook (and if you're on FB I strongly encourage you to do so), you already know that this has been quite a controversial issue, for two major reasons.  The first is that the updates contain many errors and obvious omissions, and an errata list is already in the works.  It is not clear (to me at least) when the errata will be published and become "official".

The second issue (and more significant to most players) is that Hasbro and Merriam-Webster are exerting their corporate muscle in claiming copyright ownership of the word list, and will be no longer allowing free use of electronic versions of the list.  This means that the current versions of Zyzzyva, Quackle, Zarf, Aerolith, and other apps/sites that Scrabblers use for study and word adjudication will not automatically be able to update to the new list.  This had the consequence of, among other things, throwing the December 1 rollout of the new list into jeopardy.

One (significant) thing that NASPA has done is purchase Zyzzyva and license a deal with Hasbro and M-W to make it available with the new word list to NASPA members free of charge.  On one hand, this gives NASPA a lot of leverage vs. other organizations in being able to offer play with the "official" word list, but on the other hand, the licensure issue puts players' ability to do things they've previously taken for granted, like create and share their study lists (and apps using them), into serious jeopardy.

In response to all of this, some of the most outspoken players (and directors) have suggested a number of options, including:

1) Stay with TWL2 (the current list) until the errata and electronic list issues are resolved.
2) Move to CSW (or "Collins", the larger list used by international players, and gaining increasing acceptance by North American players).  Its current version is "free" but there's no guarantee its owner couldn't assert its license in the future, similar to Hasbro/M-W.  Also, since Hasbro/M-W do not own the CSW list, NASPA would be unlikely to sanction such a move as an organization (although they do currently allow tournament play with the CSW list).

I've attached NASPA's announcement of their acquisition of Zyzzyva below.  Of course, as a representative of the Advisory Board, I welcome your feedback and input on any topic, but I'd like if you could give this issue special consideration, and please let me know if you have any strong opinions on it either way.  I'd to have at least some idea of club members' feelings on this issue before the conference call so I can represent their interests as effectively as possible.


NASPA Acquires Zyzzyva and Inks Merriam-Webster Licensing Deal

Dear NASPA Members,
In an ongoing effort to serve our members, NASPA has acquired the word study program Zyzzyva from Michael Thelen.  The arrangement came about due to new requirements by Hasbro and Merriam-Webster requiring licensing in order to make use of electronic copies of the OSPD5 and OTCWL2014 word lists.
Additionally, after several months of negotiations, we are pleased to announce that NASPA and Merriam-Webster have signed a licensing agreement to permit NASPA members to use Hasbro's OSPD5 and OTCWL2014 word lists with the Zyzzyva program for word adjudication and study purposes.
The OTCWL2014 word list, which was prepared jointly by NASPA's Dictionary Committee and Merriam-Webster's editorial staff under license from Hasbro, is the intellectual property of Hasbro, and subject to U.S. copyright law as a document which was created as the result of a lot of human judgement, not mechanically reproducible. Although we had a large part in its creation, it doesn't belong to us, and we need a license to use it for our competitive activities. Because we have good business relationships both with Merriam-Webster and with Hasbro, we were able to negotiate a license for our membership, which covers OTCWL2012 as well as the School SCRABBLE lexicon OSPD5.
This license arrangement requires a significant investment of both time and capital for NASPA.  But we considered this a vital expenditure to ensure that our membership continues to have access to important tools for word study and adjudication.
The arrangement relieves Michael Thelen of liability for any failure to comply with the new requirements for the operation of the program.  He has graciously agreed to help with coding improvements to the software, as he is able to do so.  Other members, including Ross Brown and Seth Lipkin, have offered assistance as well.  NASPA will take the lead in terms of overseeing further development of the software, legal compliance, and working with Merriam-Webster and Hasbro to ensure a longstanding, mutually beneficial relationship.
We now need to make some software changes in Zyzzyva (the desktop and mobile apps) in order to comply with data security requirements in our license. We are hoping to get these implemented very soon, and will make further announcements when we have a clear timeline for their implementation.
Chris Cree
John Chew
Dallas Johnson


Cheryl said...

Steve,what's the buzz on CGP?

Steve said...

CGP is pretty dead lately. Most of the discussion has been on the NASPA Facebook. The reaction toward Hasbro and Merriam-Webster has been almost universally negative (not surprisingly). Basically they've released an inferior product targeted at the mass market with little regard for the competitive community.

The reaction toward NASPA leadership (Cree, Chew, and to some extent Dallas Johnson) is more mixed. Many think they should be standing up to Hasbro more aggressively. Others say they're doing the best they can, considering that what Hasbro/M-W do is largely out of our control, and to be patient and things will work themselves out. I tend to lean more toward the second camp, but I'm becoming increasingly frustrated the longer this drags out without resolution.

I'm hoping the Advisory Board conference call (which is tomorrow, not Thursday, btw) will shed more light on the situation.