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May 30, 2005  An Open Letter to Adobe Systems Inc.

Good Training and Support is Critical

I know from experience how beneficial it is to work alongside the people who engineer, design and market the products that I use daily to perform my job. What's the best way to convert a color image to a sepia duotone? Should I use FrameMaker to write my thesis or InDesign? How do I draw Scotch tape in Photoshop? If you don't have access to these people, life is not easy. How can that be? There is a world of information available to someone interested in learning how to use Adobe software: a manual which you receive if you buy the product, user to user forums, conferences, magazines, trade organizations, books, videos, and millions of websites.

Well, the reason it is difficult to find answers to questions despite all the support out there is that without having someone you can ask who will immediately answer your question, you need to search. Google is great at searching the Internet, but it is not optimized for helping people get information about Adobe software. For example, the results are, for the most part, pure text. When you need to learn more about use Photoshop to make something look like a piece of Scotch tape, having some pictures along with the search results is more than just a convenience (note that I didn't say a snapshot of the website as some tools provide; I'm specifically talking about an image that illustrates the tutorial).

Improving the Existing Help and Support Systems

If Adobe were to build infrastructure to allow people to search for, annotate, and document tips and tricks, it would create a space that would far exceed the value derived from a printed manual.

This online infrastructure would allow for the following:

1. A Wikipedia-like model for collaborative content and content moderation

Taking Wikipedia as an example, we can see that a community edited and moderated forum for information is sustainable. In fact, there are many benefits to a model like this when applied to the problem of support and training for Adobe software. The first, is that it is completely unpredictable how people will use this software. Although certain features are designed with specific uses in mind, the combination of the features applied across a diverse set of tasks creates instances where people are doing things with the software that the original creators never envisioned. Thus having a collaborative system for documenting and extending this information becomes invaluable.

One of the fears about the Wikipedia model is that a group can be its own worst enemy, but the challenges there have been addressed by Wikipedia and other companies like Six Apart. It is difficult to disregard their success despite this challenge. In fact, it may be easier to focus on the upside: the Wikipediholics who can't stop adding information.

2. Profile pages for authors

One of the differences between support and tips for Adobe software versus an online encyclopedia is that with Adobe software who you are and what you do for a living has a significant impact on how you use and approach the products. Someone in forensics is going to use Photoshop differently than a web designer. For this reason having people as an organizational structure within the system becomes increasing valuable.

Now, as with any system that allows for people to become an organizational system it opens up the possibility for a type of network to be created, and from that a sense of popularity and credibility naturally grows out of the system, much like what EBay and Google use to make sense of their customers or the world wide web respectively.

An additional benefit is that existing experts in the domain of software instruction, like Lynda Weinman, have a forum to promote themselves and their services along side free content. The advantage they have to working within a system such as this is that it gives them more exposure, particularly since they have the ability to deliver richer content and the network of people who would rely on them is greater.

3. Search optimized for the task at hand

When searching the contents of this online space, people will need to see previews of images, video, audio and PDF files. A text-only result set won't work. People should be able to tag the pages, and the tags should act as a way to search, sort and filter through the content. People should be able to rate content and authors, and that data should also be incorporated in to the search criteria.

Adobe Studio's Exchange is already setting a good precedent for this and the design of that site can and should be leveraged.

In addition to search, an RSS-based system for syndicating updates will help people stay informed when new content that is potentially relevant to them is posted.

Costs and Revenue

This proposal to move Adobe help from static documents that are printed and bound to digital media, moderated by the Instructional Communications employees at Adobe and volunteers outside of Adobe will be a difficult transition. It will be expensive to develop and deploy. Since I am a shareholder of the company and want to make sure that while the company develops new areas it does not lose sight of costs and revenue, I would like to briefly touch on the financial advantages of using this system.

First and foremost, it should be understood that a system such as this will reflect a typical long tail curve. That is, there will be highly popular information that is more useful and more frequently accessed by orders of magnitude versus other information. Particularly if published authors and professional instructors begin to use the site as a forum to gain exposure and document their work, the success of their content will far exceed that of an individual in a remote area who uses only one of the products for an obscure task.

As such the financial model should be fairly easy to predict. There will be premium, copyrighted content that costs the consumer a fee to access. Adobe and the writer of the content will split the revenue. This will be the head of the long tail. And then there will be content that is free and protected under the Creative Commons License. There will be significantly more content of this nature than of the premium kind as this will cover obscure areas by people who may only write updates from time to time as a hobby. Revenue generation in this area can take the form of donations and opt-in advertisements that will be presented to the reader. Again, Adobe, the writer, and the consumer of the information can split the revenues generated.

While Adobe should not look to this system as a way to generate significant cash flow, having a strong case for a profitable revenue model is not something to overlook.

Adobe Systems was started in 1982 and has done a miraculous job of redefining itself over the years so that it is consistently relevant and inspiring. I believe a change to the help and support system such as what I've described can be a part of redefining the company yet again for an age in which we are increasingly connected and interconnected.

Posted by johnnie at May 30, 2005 11:30 PM

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» An open letter to Adobe Systems, Inc. from 9Rules Network
Johnnie Manzari, of johnniemanzari.com, has written an Open Letter to Adobe Systems, Inc. The purpose of his letter is to spur Adobe into improving their existing help and support methods. Not only is Johnnie's letter to Adobe worth being the secon... [Read More]

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Comments

You hit the nail on the head here Johnnie. I would hope that all companies someday make available ways for the open public to contribute towards support methods.

No doubt many companies believe that they are doing this simply because they have a forum on their site, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Cataloging support questions saves time both for consumer and for the business itself. Its like having a glorified searchable FAQ.

However, allowing users to contribute to a help system which would be advocated and perhaps moderated by the company itself would prove to be even more beneficial for everyone involved.

For me, writing documentation for my products has always been a pain staking process. But moderating a community to help me would be much easier, more enjoyable and definitely more rewarding.

Posted by: Colin D. Devroe at May 31, 2005 04:21 PM


I really hope Adobe reads that wonderful letter and make a better world (without applications that load more slowly).

Posted by: Oliver at June 7, 2005 09:32 PM


Thanks Johnnie, great letter. You have surely covered many of the consumer's issues with software. The first company that comes up with a great support system may have an upperhand in gaining more and more consumer appeal. keep up the good work.

Posted by: Tom Manzari at June 11, 2005 11:32 AM


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