WhatPC on Acrobat Connect… say what??

I normally don’t take bait like this, but after JD forwarded me this article on Acrobat Connect (nee Breeze Live) by WhatPC’s Guy Kewney titled “Will Acrobat Connect be a Conversation Stopper“, I have to respond to the article’s assumptions, starting with:

“(Connect) is one of many trying to recreate the old chatroom mentality.”

Now I can respect an alternate opinion, but Connect is anything BUT a regression to the old chatroom mentality (although it does support text chat as one of many communication mediums, sure – and I’d likely buy ‘an evolution of the old chatroom mentality’ as a more germane statement). VoIP (as well as direct phone bridging for those without headsets and broadband connections) is supported for real-time voice communication, falling back to chat pods for text-based discussion. But when’s the last time you were able to access a live screencast of a remote computer inside a text-based chat? I’d wager the answer is ‘never’.

Another quote:

“But the trouble with online conferencing is that you can’t see or hear the response to your comment for a day or more. They call these systems “interactive” but they aren’t. You see a message, and you respond – in full – instantly – but you don’t get a response until you have finished, posted, and your correspondent has replied.”

A day or more? Seriously? In this age of pervasive IM, text messaging and email? Even my 9-year old nephew can grok context from an IM window, and has a startling vocabulary of emoticons to qualify his more abrasive (or convoluted) statements.

But aside from rapidly changing social norms, I and many other regular Connect users also regularly use a USB or FireWire webcam to participate in online sessions (yes, video conferencing is also supported within the application) to provide the extra context, nuances and small facial tics that do indeed enhance the social context of live conversation. Particularly for more animated speakers like myself, who don’t always have time to bang out an emoticon to follow every phrase, and use a lot of body language to enhance my spoken words.

Now sure, I’ll buy that online discussion and collaboration can be a different – and sometimes disassociated – experience than real-world meatspace interaction, and requires a shifting of communication style and delivery to best leverage the medium, but Connect is far more than text chat with no social or reactive context. Screen and slide-sharing allow visual support and context to visual, audio and textual ‘chat’ within a Connect meeting, more than one layer of social context that the ASCII chat experience the article seems hell-bent on associating Connect to. Connect is a far different beast- we’ve come a long way from ‘Prodigy, BIX and CIX’.

After using Breeze (and now Connect) for years, my takeaway from the experience is that it’s dramatically improved my ability to connect with others – something many user groups around the world who have hosted me as a guest speaker via Breeze/webcam/VoIP can likely attest. I can reach a user group in Tokyo from my San Francisco home office visually, interactively – and yes, even textually – in ways I could never dream of with a simple IRC channel or even enhanced IM/chatrooms. Remote audiences can see my face via video (and I theirs), while hearing my voice via VoIP, and seeing what’s happening on my screen via screensharing- all from one interface that’s accessible by any Flash-enabled web browser. Chat room mentality? Not even close. Not by a long shot.

And finally:

“What you need, of course, is an AI avatar which responds with a hurt, or apologetic, or amused face, based on the likely response of your correspondent. It’s all very well putting your own “smiley” into online conversation; but what “interactive” means, is that the other person’s smile is seen in response. Without that, you could start a fight.

It’s all Adobe’s fault. Why can’t they understand a simple point like this? They must be really, really stupid…”

Now without providing even a non-AI emoticon or avatar to qualify the tone of that last sentence, isn’t Mr. Kewney breaking his own standards in regards to online communication here? Ironic, inflammatory, and more than a bit contradictory at best… ;-)

But to be fair, I’m also not including a visual transcript of my facial expresions while typing this post, nor do I have any interest in starting an arbitrary squabble over what seems to me to be an obvious disconnect with facts. I find the article a rather ill-informed piece, in my opinion- but Mr. Kewney’s certainly welcome to his own opinions, regardless of how much I disagree with them… ;-)

(Disclaimer: I should note that I’m not a member of the Connect team, but a regular internal user of Connect – in many respects, no different from any other end-user. But as I do work for Adobe, this post could be construed as a commercially-biased opinion- which it is not. I’ll leave such judgements of my character to you, the reader.)

15 Responses to WhatPC on Acrobat Connect… say what??

  1. tom says:

    Ohhh boy I was wishing that guy had a comments section on that page. What A Dumbass!

  2. John Dowdell says:

    Hmm, I think I see a way he may be making sense… compare participating in an Acrobat Connect session and talking on a telephone… in the latter people interrupt each other to steer them in the right direction. But in Breeze, when you type a question in the chat window it may or may not be read.The last line may have been an ironic one, considering that it was posted to a weblog without comments… the weblog medium has even longer latency than a Connect meeting would.Does this seem to jibe with his text…?

  3. Possibly, JD- I suppose had Mr. Kewney elaborated on the enhancements 2-way VoIP and video within a Connect experience would present in regards to context (let alone acknowledged them) – aside from the only analogies referred to being strictly archaic text-based chat – that would have made a wee bit more sense. But I haven’t had a text-only Connect experience in some time (as you probably know by the decibel levels emanating from my desk on a regular basis), and still stand by my opinion above (as I’m sure the author would his).And sure, I’ll agree the last jab could have been a bit tongue-in-cheek on his part, but who can tell? For an article asserting that emotional and reactive context in online communication is being lost due to collaborative mediums such as Connect… emoticons, video or emotional footnotes wouldn’t have helped that closing jab much either way.Tom: I’d agree it would have been easier to post this retort as a comment on his article, that’s more my style. But hey, you take what you can get… ;-)

  4. A little third-part commentary to balance this all, two great posts by user group managers on their experience with Connect (Breeze):- Charlie ArehartSteve Bryant

  5. mike says:

    pppb… Kewney knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote that piece. Fill it with lots of broad misinterpretations of the facts and not give a place for comments. The result? Loads of bloggers write about it and link to the article. Google thinks his article is the bomb and his advertisers love it.

  6. No disagreement here, Mike. I agree 100%, and as mentioned in the open of my post, I don’t usually bite on flamebait like that- but his article was so out-of-left-field I could not resist… call it a character flaw, if you will. ;-)

  7. willpollard says:

    For comments on Guy Kewney writing, try this messaage sectionhttp://www.quicktopic.com/37/H/e8RAViHQFuQT4Apart from magazine provocations, the ‘newswireless ‘ site has a lot on wifi etc.http://www.newswireless.net/My question is whatever happened to PDF as a comment mechanism? Adobe seem to have left LiveCycle as a forbiddingly expensive server option for those who like security and signatures. ‘Acrobat Connect’ may confuse some people. This is a Flash future. I liked all the comment potential in Acrobat but I fear it will not be promoted even for those who can afford it. How many people who paid for Acrobat 7 realise they could enable comments in Reader? My guess is about 7%.

  8. Thanks for the link (and reference on that message board system), Will- I’ll keep an eye for comments but don’t care to move discussion on my own part to yet another disassociated site/forum- I generally consider fragmenting discussions poor online communications practice myself. Mr. Kewney is more than welcome to add any comments/rebuttals to my blog posting right here, -in context- where he won’t have to create a new site account to do so (and again- I’ll watch that thread for followups and update this post appropriately).Interesting site/blog as well- I’m not on the mobile development group at ADBE either (I’m a video/web specialist) but will add it to my feedreader to see if the signal outweighs the noise… ;-)Re: Acrobat futures- keep an eye on developments from here out, there’s a lot on the horizon that can’t be publicly discussed at this time, of course. Such is the software business, alas- I prefer to not put myself in the position of speculation before I have something tangible to point to.Thanks again for the references! Much appreciated.

  9. Guy Kewney says:

    Case made, I think!:-)That’s exactly the problem with “interactive” online comms. Even when the writer goes to considerable effort to be brazenly ironic, the comment section fills up with enraged flames from people who decided it was deliberate. And have you guys just stopped visiting newsgroups? It’s TERRIFYING.Not that long ago, the BBC interviewed someone who they thought was me, about the Beatles vs Apple lawsuit. I mentioned, in passing, that he didn’t seem to be an expert on the subject but that this, on its own, wouldn’t be any proof he wasn’t me because people have said similar things about me. But there was the small point of his having a moon-face and me being emaciated, and the trivial factor of my being painfully pink (with photo to prove it!) and his being really rather brown.The piece made people laugh. Not as much as the expression on Guy Goma’s face when it dawned on the poor chap that he was on live TV, but it was a gentle piece of humour, and most people got it. But some were unable to see the tongue in the cheek, and I was deluged with hate mail.The comment about using a webcam is valid, of course; I use Skype for exactly that purpose. I don’t doubt that the Adobe tool is useful. I’m sure it has advantages! and really, my point was to give the new product some air time, but to remind people that “online chat” is prone to misunderstanding…Response here shows I wasn’t badly wrong!

  10. Well, I will agree that the reactionary tone and ambiguous emotional intent behind your article certainly drummed up interest in it. Effective taglines/pull quotes notwithstanding, if we were having this conversation in Connect, I guarantee there would be no misrepresentation of either of our tones or intent- as through video and VoIP we’d both see each other’s reactions in realtime. So in general, no- I’m not buying the assertion behind the article, regardless of how obvious your ‘tongue in cheek’ intent may have been behind the scenes you certainly didn’t go at length to convey it (via emoticons or even the AI avatar example you cited). Was the intent of your article getting a reaction, or making a point? Methinks the former. ;-)(emoticon included so we both know that I’m poking fun there.)Of course ‘we’ (not sure which broad demographic you’re referring to there?) haven’t stopped using newsgroups and the like- but online conversation is evolving in many ways and requires new skills to use effectively. I’m not sure you made your point in the article nearly as effectively as you’d have hoped, though. That’s my opinion on the matter, and the sole point of this ‘blog posting.

  11. One other small point, Guy- although I would characterize Connect conversations as ‘interactive’ (in all senses of the word), I would also note that comment threads, blog postings, newsgroups and the like are NOT, so again- to use this or other ASCII interactions as the basis for an article that Connect falls victim to the same snafus is rather misleading… ;-)

  12. Guy Kewney says:

    Thanks for the publicity, anyway!:-)As I remarked onhttp://www.newswireless.net/index.cfm/article/2948my own blog, in a non-Dilbert world, you’d just have picked up the phone and called me – and/or your PR folks would have got in touch and arranged a demo. I’m actually one of the few Editors in the world who publishes his office phone number on the site. Alas! – so accustomed are people in the Web 2.0 Age to remote, inaccessible humans hiding behind a URL, that you probably didn’t even look for a phone number, and if you’d seen it, you’d have assumed it was a scam. Sad, but…If ever Adobe PR does arrange for me to try Connect out, will you call? (and you can skypeme as gkewney if that’s a budget problem! ):-)Cheers,Guy

  13. Hi, Guy-So let me make sure I’ve got you straight here- you publish a (now admittedly) reaction-inducing piece on how Connect may be a conversation-stopper and …- on an article with no link to your personal weblog- no obvious contact information on said article- no comment threads attached to said article- use none of your own noted ‘best practices’ to obscure a self-admitted tongue-in-cheek comment in said article- accept comments to said article only on an unlinked message board system not hosted on either the article’s, or your own weblog servers…and somehow you feel this is proving a point that Connect may or may not be responsible for the breakdown of online communication? Sorry, but that’s incredibly flawed logic. I think you’ve just proved your own inefficiencies more than Connect here, Guy. ;-)It’s now pretty obvious you’re trolling for publicity, so with all due respect- point to this thread for further interaction so people can at least look at the discussion in some relative context. By splitting this discussion across 4 different sites while trying to make a point about Connect being a ‘conversation stopper’, you’ve really only demonstrated a propensity for being hoisted on your own pitard, if I do say so myself.As noted in my original post, I’m not a member of the Connect/Acrobat team, and I’ll certainly pass along your info in case their PR folks feel obliged to give a callback and fill in the gaps in your logic (you know that our PR department is equally reachable for fact-checking and official comment, should you have chosen to actually research your initial article?).(for the record, I’m not overly worked up or irate, nor consider this a ‘flame war’- which should have been evident from the liberal amount of ascii emoticons I’ve sprinkled throughout each of my posts- should you care to follow your own advice as to online best practices, of course… ;-)For now however, please feel free to point discussion back to this post as a centralized point (particularly as your most recent posting doesn’t seem to have generated much talkback on the disassociated server you’re pointing comments towards)- I’d be fine with a little quid pro quo on the publicity front myself.(LOL)

  14. Guy Kewney says:

    “So let me make sure I’ve got you straight here” …reminds me strongly of a quote from my column: “So, what you’re saying…”As usual, as soon as a debate gets to that point, we can be sure we’ve lost the thread! “So…” – it’s a dead giveaway in this sort of forum, always has been; so I doubt there’s a great deal of profit in trying to pursue it much further.I’ll try a final clarification, all the same…!First, the choice of platform. My original column was written for IT Week, a paper news media title. What they do, is their business. They choose to publish it in the online area of What PC; but this is no reflection of my preferences for online debate. I chose nothing. I just fulfilled my weekly commission. Don’t try to read a thing about my motivations into their publishing machine!The thesis was never a critique of Connect, and no amount of “So…” rhetoric can make it into one. It was a comment on the way that efforts, like Douglas Adams’s Babel Fish, seem to cause confusion, especially with latency built into the conversation.If your point is that you feel Connect helps (or aims to help) to eliminate such latency, you’ve made it.As to whether you’re an impartial judge, I dunno. I wouldn’t want to comment on that until I’ve played on Connect lines. What I can say (and tried to say) is that remote communications are fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding – and that in a face to face conversation, such misunderstandings are nipped in the bud by body language and facial response.So no, that’s not what I was saying. Yes, it was a “reaction-inducing piece” but no: it was not “on how Connect may be a conversation-stopper.” It was about the huge challenge Connect faces in trying to overcome the problems of online comms, and it was about how fraught online comms can be.

    …and somehow you feel this is proving a point that Connect may or may not be responsible for the breakdown of online communication?

    No. Trust me, if that had been my point, then I’d have made it! I’m sure this column isn’t my best ever, but I know that readers without the axe to grind “got it” because they said so. So I’ll accept responsibility for any lack of clarity you found, but if I review Connect and find it to be responsible for the breakdown of online communication, you won’t have to ask “So let me make sure I’ve got you straight here” because I’ll give it to you straight. I have no experience of Connect, and wasn’t trying to attribute anything to it.I was talking about how bad online communications can be. I was saying that Connect was venturing into Babel fish territory – trying to facilitate communications. I was saying that this is an arena which may never be a level playing field, because of the wrecks of other comms tools which litter the grass.When I said “Case made” I didn’t mean “You’ve proved how awful Connect can be” because that was never my case. I meant: “You’ve illustrated what I was trying to say: how a latency-based text forum can generate misunderstandings and friction.”What I said was

    Many online conversations start with an innocuous comment, producing this sort of response: “So, what you’re really saying is…” And, of course, it rarely is what you’re actually saying.

    Where you have a case, is in challenging (and you did this up front) the other comment I made:

    The Adobe product is one of many trying to recreate the old chatroom mentality…

    and if you will permit me, I’ll hold fire on pursuing that, until I’ve actually experienced Connect.If it turns out that Connect is not going to generate latent comments, I’ll happily acknowledge as much. Online, as you respond to an initial, unintentional provocation, your subconscious is looking for signs of acknowledgement of your point; and of course, it doesn’t get it. If you can show me that Connect provides that instant acknowledgement, I’ll certainly be impressed! – but I’ll have to stick to my point.And that point is that many have tried to solve this problem in the past, and that if Connect really solves it, it will be a first…

  15. Fair enough, Guy- your response here is actually quite on the mark, and does help me understand the context of your original post much more clearly. I will never defend ‘blog comments and message boards (and the long latency involved in using them) against your general assertions! In fact I fully agree, these text-based contexts do have severe drawbacks- and are not ‘interactive’ in the least. ;-)FYI, your last point was indeed the main (and initial) assertion I was challenging, and I do feel that Connect does a good job of addressing exactly that type of ‘old chatroom mentality’ and it’s shortcomings in long-latency conversations.And sure, as noted in my original posting above, I’m sure I could be seen as a not-so-impartial critic on this topic, so even though I don’t feel overly biased towards Adobe products/technology personally (more a ‘best tool for the job ‘ kind of fellow, myself) I certainly wouldn’t hold anyone guilty for suspecting me of such biases.I can only hope you have a similar experience if/when trying Connect ;-)