Monday, March 12, 2007

RoboHelp and the Tipping Point

On Saturday, I was speaking at the STC regional conference in Birmingham, where I was told that Adobe's RoboHelp team members were planning to come the UK. They want to meet the "movers and shakers", and that the person organising the UK end (who is not an Adobe employee) thought we should be at that meeting. Apparently, the RoboHelp team has been surprised by the "mixed" comments regarding RoboHelp 6, and it wants to get some feedback regarding the future direction for the tool. It's a good move. For a long time, the various owners of RoboHelp have, in many ways, ignored its community.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point" he talks about connectors, mavens and salesman as types of people that can cause the rapid adoption or dropping of a product, fashion or idea. Seth Godwin talks about these people too, calling them "sneezers".

In the Blue Sky Software era, the company nurtured these influencers. For example, it provided a directory of authorised trainers and consultants on the RoboHelp Web site. This changed around the time the company rebranded to eHelp, where they took training sales in-house and required any authorised trainers and consultants to (a) pay a certification fee and (b) sign a contract forbidding them to publicly criticise the products or the company. This led to a number of key influencers dropping out of the RoboHelp inner circle and start to look at AuthorIT instead.

When MacroMedia took over, it decided only authorised training centres could deliver RoboHelp training. This lead to the virtual end of RoboHelp public training courses in the UK, as these centres didn't have the contacts with the authoring community, didn't have the trainers to deliver the course and didn't understand the product.

As RoboHelp was left to stagnate under MacroMedia's ownership, we would talk within Cherryleaf and our inner circle about when and if someone in the authoring community would say "it's time to drop RoboHelp", and whether the power of The Tipping Point would be proven.

It hasn't happened (yet), because I think people still want RoboHelp to succeed, us included. Joe Welinske's announcement in 2005 that MacroMedia had put RoboHelp into "sunset" and that it would fade from common use certainly did have an impact. More recently, reviews of RoboHelp 6 ("RoboHelp 6 finally arrives, and it’s craptastic"), have, I would guess, shaken the RoboHelp team.

AuthorIT and MadCap, meanwhile, have been putting the hours into the community, working with the key influencers. Today, they have, in many ways, better products than RoboHelp 6. This strength, combined with a better relationship with the "connectors, mavens and salesmen", could lead to a big switch away from RoboHelp.

The challenge for Adobe, I believe, is to develop a better product and to try and rebuild relationships that haven't been nurtured properly for the past four or five years. Maybe it's time they read "The Tipping Point".



At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Kevin Chilton said...

All very nice. Unfortunately the meeting is (of course) in London. For those of us who live in the rest of the UK, this may prove a little too expensive.

At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote - More recently, reviews of RoboHelp 6 ("RoboHelp 6 finally arrives, and it’s craptastic"), have, I would guess, shaken the RoboHelp team.

FYI - there are plenty of other reviews and articles about this product of a less dubious nature. The above review that you quoute has very questionable motives.

Quote: AuthorIT and MadCap, meanwhile, have been putting the hours into the community, working with the key influencers.

FYI - You may benefit from following the Adobe Community forums for RoboHelp. Adobe have been making a great deal of effort to involve as many people as possible in shaping the future of RoboHelp. Particularly the users - surely these are the guys that REALLY matter and surely the users should be the 'key influencers' when shaping a products future?.

My experience of Adobe has been incredibly positive and they are incredibly good listeners. For those of you that our patient enough to wait for the rewards - just watch this space.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Ellis said...

The argument Gladwell and Gdowin make is that influence is not spread evenly amongst the user community. Some users, MVPs for example, have a bigger voice than others. Adobe have a lot of catching up to do following the MacroMedia era, and if they are going in the right direction then that's good news for the authoring community.

I don't think you can just dismiss the MonkeyPi review as "questionable motives". Reviews have been "mixed" overall.

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Gladwell and Godwin completely miss is that the people who make things happen are the ones who get off their back side and do something about it. MVPs and many other professionals represent the views of the many (not their own interests), rather than the big players who often have little interest in the users needs (and represent their own interests).

Personally, I have a lot of respect for Adobe's dual approach and they shouldn't get constantly attacked for this history of the product they are in the process of reviving and reshaping.

And if you would like to examine the 'questionable motives' of moneypi, go to google and type 'RoboHelp'. Non-profit making blogs do not generally pay google for sponsored links. Yes reviews have been mixed, but this one is questionable.

At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Peter Grainge said...

I am the person who contacted the STC about these meetings.

I am not sure why it is necessary to make the point that I am not an Adobe employee but let me explain my role. I am an Adobe Community Expert which simply means that Adobe have recognised me for the work I do assisting fellow authors on the RoboHelp forums and maintaining my website at In that connection I am meeting with Adobe whilst they are in the UK and offered to try to find some users who wanted to provide feedback. Such feedback is being actively sought by Adobe to help them decide what goes into the next release. It will be Adobe organising the meetings. My role is simply helping to find people for them to meet which is easier for me being UK based. They do have their own sources but thought maybe I could get to people not already known to them.

Whilst movers and shakers are welcome, in fact Adobe want to meet anyone who wants to express an opinion about RoboHelp. So if anyone is the sole author in a small company, they are just as welcome, in some ways perhaps more welcome as that feedback can be more difficult to elicit.

As to the implication that these meetings have come about because of Adobe's reaction to comment about RoboHelp 6, I think there's an element of "send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance". (World War 1 tale where a word of mouth message from the front line started as "send reinforcements, we are going to advance" got to HQ as "send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance" - causing some very puzzled looks.) When I contacted the STC I was asked about reaction to RoboHelp 6 and I said that I had seen mixed reactions by which I meant that I had seen comments from people who liked what they saw and others who felt it wasn't enough. That was not a statement on behalf of Adobe as I don't have that authority. More importantly I want to make it clear that is not the reason behind their UK visit and these meetings. The meetings are part of the desire to get feedback that Adobe have demonstrated since they came on the scene.

What I said about STC members being at the meeting was along the lines that it would be good if some members could attend as being authors with an interest in their profession, their views would be welcomed. They are a part of of the RoboHelp user community and it was not a command "you ought to be there". It was an invitation.

For the benefit of Kevin and anyone else not based in London, whilst Adobe's time in the UK is limited, it is possible they can visit some other locations within striking distance of London. No promises as clearly in the day they can be travelling they cannot get to Taunton, Liverpool, Newcastle and back to London. However, indicate that Adobe can visit you and where you are and they will work out the best itinerary they can. If out of London visits can be arranged, then that is possible but I make no promises.

So please let's not keep looking at the history of RoboHelp before Adobe came on the scene, we know what happened. Let's give Adobe the chance they seek and support them by giving feedback. Let's judge Adobe on their performance and what they do with the feedback. I am one of a number of people who have been in close dialog with Adobe and the signs are good that they are taking notice so please join in.

In a later post the comment is made "Some users, MVPs for example, have a bigger voice than others. Adobe have a lot of catching up to do following the MacroMedia era..." If by MVPs, this is a reference to what Adobe call Adobe Community Experts then the whole point of Adobe's visit is to widen the audience. Yes the UK based Adobe Community Experts will be meeting with them but they made it clear that is not enough, they want to speak to anyone who is willing to voice an opinion.

Let's give Adobe some credit for what they are trying to do and a chance to do it.


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