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.)