FlashCanon Flash Platform stuff from Jason Fincanon


Flash Platform community elitism

When I began writing this post, I was starting it out explaining that I was going to try to choose my words carefully in an attempt to keep from upsetting anyone… I’ve changed my mind. This isn’t what I would call a scathing post, but I’ve changed my mind about being careful. With that said, here are my thoughts on some recent (and not-so-recent) experiences and observations within the Flash Platform community.

My, how times have changed
There was a time (not all that long ago) when everyone under the sun wasn’t using Twitter, Facebook and all of the other “new” social media tools. A time when most interaction between members of the Flash community happened in forums and mailing lists like We’re Here and Flashcoders. Well, as they always do, times have changed, technology has continued to advance and people have built new tools and found new ways to communicate with each other even faster than ever before. Gone are the days of posting to a forum and waiting days (or even weeks) for the right person to stumble across your question to help you with a solution. Now you can simply tweet your challenge, question, idea, etc and all of the people following you will be there to help you in an instant. If they can’t help, they may choose to retweet your issue or idea and within minutes you could have literally hundreds (or even thousands) of other members of the Flash Platform community reading that question or idea! Now you will be heard! Now you have a voice! Now you can be the driving force behind new ideas, differences and changes in the community… in the way other developers look at things… in the way Adobe develops the future of the Flash Platform!

Well, maybe…

By the community, for the community… or something like that
So the way I understand it is that we (the community) have a big say in the future of the Flash Platform. As a matter of fact, Ted Patrick wrote a post about it last week and I wrote a small post to help promote his information in what little bit that I might be able to. Now before I go much further, I should point out that I still feel that Ted’s post let us know a very important piece of information. It let us know that we have a voice and that we can create the change in the platform that we want and/or need. And I believe it to a certain point.

In the time since Ted wrote that post, I’ve seen (and taken part in) discussions going around about just how much of a voice we all have. Some people talked about it on Twitter while others wrote posts about it on their blogs. But my point isn’t about Ted’s post so I’ll move on now.

The community hierarchy (in my eyes)
I tend to view the structure of the Flash Platform community much like that of a city government or a corporate hierarchy except that members can’t be voted out or laid off. Allow me to explain… At the top, you have Adobe (the City Mayor or Chairman of the Board). Just under Adobe are the Adobe Employees (collectively the City Manager or C.E.O.). Under them you’ll find the “community/industry leaders” (the City Counsel or Department Heads). And finally, under the community/industry leaders are the rest of the members of the Flash Platform community (the city’s residents or company’s employees). So to lay this out somewhat visually:

—Adobe Employees (Evangelists, product managers, etc)
—–Community/Industry Leaders (The “big names” in the community)
——–The rest of the community (ranging from students and hobbyists to professionals that have been doing it for years)

Note: I know it’s much deeper than that so don’t get too hung up in the logistics of this structure and let it distract you.

What? I can’t hear you. You’re not awesome enough.
So exactly how loud do you have to talk (or yell) to make a difference in the community? If you have a legitimate issue or, even better, a ground breaking idea that could possibly improve some part the Flash Platform itself, how loud must you be? In my opinion, the answer to that question goes something like this: “It depends on how high you are in the community hierarchy.” And to take it one step further: the lower you are, the better your ideas need to be for anyone to even think about listening to you.

“But Jason,” you say, “that’s normal. That’s how things work. People like the industry leaders are farther up the hierarchy for a reason. They’ve worked hard for years to get there and they have proven themselves worthy.” And I totally agree with that. They have worked hard. They have proven themselves and many of us have learned an enormous amount from them. I admire them and I am grateful to them for their contribution to my own career. I also admire and fully respect most of Adobe’s evangelists. The ones I’ve met in person have seemed to be very nice, very down-to-earth individuals that are passionate about, and believe in, what they do.

However, there seem to be some in the upper crust of the hierarchy that choose to ignore those beneath them. And when I say “beneath them,” I mean that in two ways: 1. under them in my perception of the community hierarchy and 2. not good enough for them. That’s right, I’m saying it… I see some elitists in the higher rankings of the community.

The community elite
Whether it’s because they think they are better than you, or they disagree with you on topics outside of the industry (politics, etc), or they just flat out don’t care what you have to say, there are at least a few people “up top” that seem to only listen to the other people that are on top with them (or just one hierarchical step below them). An evangelist, for example, that tends to listen only to other evangelists or industry leaders while completely ignoring potential platform changing ideas that are being presented from beneath them. Or maybe an industry leader that only communicates with other industry leaders and evangelists on a regular basis, but chooses to ignore the rest of us commoners in the huddled masses. I have a few names in mind for both of those examples, but I’m not one to call them out publicly so I’ll leave it to your own personal experiences, observations and imagination to fill in those blanks.

I know that Adobe evangelists and industry leaders probably get an over-abundant amount of emails, direct messages, tweets and every other form of communication asking for help, asking for direction, presenting ideas, etc, etc, etc. I respect that, but I honestly don’t think it’s a legitimate reason to ignore those that are asking.

Dear Evangelists,
You have a great job (in my opinion) and you work for a company that many in the community could only ever dream of calling their employer. You were fortunate enough to have been presented the opportunity and to have all of your life situations lined up in such a way to let you seize that opportunity. I won’t claim to have any clue about what’s in your job description, but I think it has something to do with informing the community about the technology… about being a part of the community and most importantly, about inspiring the community. From where I stand, I see evangelists delivering with a wide range of varying success in regard to those items… especially the last one. Some of you inspire us to create new apps, try new tools, want to learn new (to us) technologies and ask you to share more knowledge with us along the way. Conversely, some of you make us wonder why we should bother asking for more of your knowledge or why we should bother presenting our ideas since they probably won’t be heard unless we are as awesome as you. You chose to take the community centric job so please choose to listen and communicate with the community (yes, even us lowly peons).

Dear Industry Leaders,
Thank you for your contributions to the community. You have busted your asses to break new ground which has paved the way for many of us and a few of you are the giants on whose shoulders many have stood. However, please try to remember some things:

  • people look up to you, but you are not the be-all and end-all of everything
  • you were once a student who needed to learn so don’t look down on those still learning
  • you are part of a larger community (it’s not all about you)
  • you are a regular person just like the rest of us
  • be humbled and remember that there is always someone better
  • it doesn’t matter how awesome you are, not even you can know everything there is to know
  • don’t be an elitist

You put yourselves in the industry leader positions by working hard to get there. If you don’t want to deal with the rest of the community that you are “leading”, please feel free to step out of the spotlight while you continue your great work.

Dear Adobe,
Two very obvious points: 1. I love your products – they are my livelihood and they put food the mouths of my children. And 2. I don’t work for you so I don’t know how your inner corporate gears all connect and turn to bring about change and direction. That said, I’m curious about your take on community leadership. If you hire a person to be in a highly visible and community centric position (such as an evangelist) and they continually make the choice to essentially ignore the cries from the vast majority of the community, does it matter? I have to believe that there are annual employee reviews or something similar, but are general attitudes toward the people in the community taken into account? I mean these are the people that represent you, right? I would never call out for anyone to have their job taken from them, but are they kept in check at all in that sense? Maybe they should be.

Woah, Jason! Who slapped your mama, big guy?
Nobody did me wrong or hurt my feelings to make me write this up. This isn’t a rant or a whine session. Instead, it’s something I’ve been noticing for a while now. I’ve experienced it first hand and I’ve seen it happen to other people as well. It’s hard enough to be seen or heard in the community when you consider how much it has grown and how much it continues to grow. I think it’s wrong that some of the people on top would make it harder simply because of their arrogance and elitist attitudes. Maybe they really do think they are too good for the people beneath them. Maybe they choose to pretend the people beneath them aren’t there due to some kind of strange, unwarranted fear that those people will “dethrone” them or something. Or maybe it’s just something else altogether that I’ll never be able to understand because I’m just not awesome enough.

Flame on!
And now, without further ado, let the flames begin!

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Comments (11) Trackbacks (0)
  1. 2 things, first, awesome captcha: Bindable FTW!

    Second, can you elaborate on what exactly ticked you off? I’m sure you’re in a difficult position because you don’t want to offend anyone, or perhaps others may not see the perception you see… which is fine.

    For example, I’ve always felt TDD (Test Driven Development) people were elitist. Not all, but most who “get it” don’t spend time to share with the rest of us. I see more “You’re a moron for not getting TDD” vs. “Here’s why TDD is better” with real, practical examples. Over time, I have found some of those nice people and thus learned, but I’ve never really figured out why it is this way. OOP was never like that… why TDD?

    So… examples?

  2. I can’t complain at all about this topic. I consider myself a newbie on Flash, but lately I’ve been performing almost an annoying research on Actionscript stuff.

    I’m pretty aware that all the people that I’ve twited or emailed must be VERY busy. Nevertheless, I’d received the feedback that I’ve been expecting most of the time.

    Hope you people at Adobe really take in considerations during your design process feedback from hungry developers hanging around the globe (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=adobefeedback is a good example).

    Kind regards.

  3. I’m going to go ahead and say I completely disagree with you on this.

    1) The internet is a place where words are first and emotion is second. I can’t count the amount of times I have read something completely differently than it was intended. Emotion just doesn’t come across well online. The community is a lot the same. While it looks like people are “elitest” they are just doing what comes most comfortable to them. Yeah, they are all close friends in the community. That’s probably because they have met face to face MANY MANY times. What’s my point here? Well, they are just friends talking. Nothing more really.

    2) You have to realize evangelism is a business. At the very core of it, it’s main goal is to keep people informed (and keep your company informed of what developers want) so they buy your product. What they do might seem sincere (and I fully expect it IS sincere), but know that there is probably a hidden agenda behind it. They are definitely passionate developers just like us, but they have to be careful what they do and don’t say. At the end of the day, what they say has a LOT more of an impact than any other person. Insert typical “OMG ADOBE SAID WE GETZ 3D IN FLASH!!!111” statement here.

    3) You really shouldn’t make statements like this until you have met these people in person. I only say that because I used to actually think the same way. But when you go to a few conferences, the personalities really come out. I’m not going to go into this too much because you just can’t explain it. Just believe me.

    Anyways. Not sure what point I have, other than just to say don’t think into it too much. Go compare this community to any other and I promise you none will even come close. EVERYONES opinion matters. Adobe always listens and always fixes the things developers want. No matter how popular you are.

  4. ‘“Here’s why TDD is better” with real, practical examples.’

    Go for it, Jester. :)

    Btw, I think Lee Brimelow was a great addition to Adobe’s Flash team. A guy who actually goes out of his way to help developers…

  5. “Adobe always listens and always fixes the things developers want.”
    Are you kidding me ?

    I’m still waiting for a correct handling of the keyboard. (on all OS, browser) . And i waited for about 8 years… I’m filling up their crappy JIRA, commenting on “big” flash blog … Do they really hear me ? Do they really care ? How could i know ?

  6. Just based on these first few comments it seems that what I thought would happen has happened and that is Josh’s 2nd sentence: “The internet is a place where words are first and emotion is second”

    Ok, so let me try to correct this in a few lines…

    1. I’m NOT mad and there was no single event or person that pissed me off. I’m very happy and I love you all. :)

    2. I KNOW that we have the absolute BEST community out there. There is absolutely no question about that in my mind.

    3. This post is not about ALL evangelists or industry leaders by any stretch of the imagination. Only a select few.

    4. It’s partially about perception. If you are leading a community and that community perceives you as an egotistical elitist, how can you expect them to continue to look up to you? And in the long term, how can you expect them to keep respecting you?

    5. It’s partially about communication. If you are leading a community and the people in the lower tiers of that community can’t get you to communicate with them, what good does that do?

    6. It’s partially about a general rule of life: Stay humble

    7. I’m NOT mad and there was no single event or person that pissed me off. I’m very happy and I love you all. :)

    8. I’ve had several conversations about this topic with various people and it’s interesting when you start hearing the same names attached to the same perceived attitudes.

    9. I’m NOT mad and there was no single event or person that pissed me off. I’m very happy and I love you all. :)

    Josh, you’ve made some great points there. I was definitely not making a blanket statement about all of these people. However, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that perception is reality… If someone continually comes across as elitist or egotistical, then how can others not develop that perception about them? If they only communicate within their group of friends, then how can the people that don’t have a way into that circle keep from viewing them as elitist? I ask this in relation to the people that are seemingly supposed to be communicating with everyone in the community.

    Jesse, I know there’s not a detailed example in this reply, but let me know if that cleared up your question in any way whatsoever.

    10. I’m NOT mad and there was no single event or person that pissed me off. I’m very happy and I love you all. :)

  7. Fardeen: I might have worded that wrong (or it’s intention might have been misread). This might be better… “Adobe listens to developers and tries their best to fix what is best for the Flash Platform”. They can’t fix every problem that every developer has. That would not only be impossible, but be bad for business.

  8. Hey Jason. i remember feeling the very same way you did two years ago. i left my job at a broadcaster, and the very next day i attended the Adobe AIR Tour. i was really unimpressed with the pompous attitudes of the evangelists, and couldn’t beleive the degree of self-absorption they demonstrated. i was there to find out how i might use their new product to make money for my new business. Instead, i wound up sitting through an entire day-long wank about their adventures on the tour bus.

    You’re a very nice fellow. i sometimes have trouble being nice. And especially then, i was feeling the pressure of becoming a free agent after leaving a cushy corporate job, and the AIR Tour was just a gigantic WOT.

    So i named names.


    But Lee is a peach. i wish other Adobe spokespeople were as down-to-Earth and accessible as that guy.

    (Keep in mind that i wrote this article two years ago. Everyone involved may have grown decent in the intervening years – including me, i hope.)

  9. I’d agree that people tend to listen closest to those they know… face-to-face and social drives a lot of attention, that’s a basic part of human nature.

    But something which can help the exposure and adoption of an idea is to make a good, concise explanation. Make it easy for the reader to take away your main point.

    (I haven’t read many of this week’s essays because they were too long and discursive, and because I knew others would be investing the extra time in reading them.)

    I gave your post a quick scan, then a full read, and just now a full re-read. I’m not sure what to escalate internally to other staffers. I got the sense there was something about “ignoring the vast majority”, but I’m not sure how to turn that into something others here could act on. If you see a way I could help, you’ll let me know, I hope…?

    tx, jd/adobe

  10. Hey John, thanks for the read and comment. And thank you for the offer to help in any way you can. But I don’t think it’s so much about escalating or changing anything in the way Adobe is run. Instead, I think it’s more about the people that are in these powerful positions of influence stepping back from themselves and remembering where they came from. Remembering that they too were once a part of the lower rungs of the community ladder. And remembering that the people that are there now look up to them on many different levels. It’s a call out to the community and industry leaders to make sure they remember those things and to at least make an effort to stay humble.

    My note to Adobe was more of a question of if these things are considered when sending people out to represent the company.

    Also, there are two things that I think are very much worth repeating:
    1. I am absolutely NOT talking about all evangelists or industry leaders. There are definitely some awesome people out there who are 100% on the opposite end of the spectrum from what I’m talking about.
    2. I’m not only talking about evangelists… I’m talking about industry leaders as well.

  11. Some interesting points… kudos for vocalizing its very relevant to me as a “lowly” 😛

    As for the “elites”… I really don’t think a negative impression should be brought around them. They are great leaders and have helped inspire us all… but its crucial they realize what the blog author noted: Their positions can act as voice for the mass community that looks up to them… so please take this power and use it wisely :)

    I really think the main thing that should be taken away from this post is that the Flash community needs even more guidance and structuring. Establishing a community position and figurehead at Adobe would tremendously help this… and let us know Adobe really cares about open communities. A role that very similar to their evangelists but with a real authority would help bring clarity and bring solutions to the issues we and the platform face.

    Investing into the Flash community is even more important than investing into the technologies that drives it… for a human can deal with not having a specific language feature but cannot deal with not getting reaction/feedback from someone or something he/she loves. This is rather prominent currently in the Flash community where you have great designers discovering/developing new bugs/compilers/parsers/tools and input techniques with no roadmap or assurance that their works will not go to the wayside by Adobe later doing it themselves or not putting their findings into action.

    Another issue here is Adobe has to continually work on better understanding open… and how to properly leverage this open community the are so fond of marketing. In reality successful open source projects stem from highly distributed and chaotic systems (chaorder)… where groups collaborate to solve a common problem. Adobe is in a awkward spot in the sense that they are releasing products as “open source”… not knowing or even gauging for that matter what “the community’s common problem” is.

    At the heart of the Flash Platform is the player… which we all know is never and really cannot be open source (security issues alone)… but they should REALLY consider somehow modularize the player to allow for (non-licensed/security) related parts to be actually fixed by the community (e.g. vector rendering, language features, performance)… all these things would greatly benefit from an open community getting involved and centralized around a common point.

    Either way my 2 cents… really glad all these types of posts are going around really questioning core issues that face our community… and to be honest if Adobe does not respond properly then they will see a large migration of their developers looking elsewhere… and as much as I LOOVE AS3 and company behind it… Direct2D/C# and Silverlight are really looking tempting :)

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