Is the Adobe Community Expert Program good for the community?

Nov 24, 2009

If you haven't heard, Adobe is looking for new Community Experts. I'll shorten this to "ACE" even though that is technically a different Adobe program. I'm just not going to write "Adobe Community Expert" every time. If you don't know of the program, you should check it out. There are several benefits in being an ACE. You can apply and view the current list of members at

First, as many of you know, I'm not an Adobe Community Expert and I actually prefer it that way. There are several reasons for this. First, I do use other competitor products like Railo, etc. Plus, I like to keep my views as independent/objective as possible. Being an ACE has a lot of benefits, I'm frankly amazed more people don't try to sign up for it. But for me, it would be strange to benefit from such a program and maintain the appearance of being objective in my thoughts about Adobe either here on my blog or at the RIApodcast. So as such, I'll probably never join the program. Just want that to be clear up front.

Second Disclosure:
This isn't necessarily against the ACEs or the Adobe program per se. Many of my friends in the tech world are ACEs and I know the program helps them out quite a bit. At the same time, Adobe should be commended for having this program.

Ok, so my question is fairly simple. "Is the Adobe Community Expert Program good for the community?". I'm not entirely sure of the answer, but I think it's a very important to ask. Naturally when I asked this on Twitter, several current ACE's responded back. It was sort of like speaking to the choir. Most ACEs are community minded and naturally the ones that responded are very active.

I'll attempt to list out the positives and negatives from the community point of view. Like I mention before, the benefits to the ACEs themselves are quite good.

Community Positives:
- Recognizes active community people in their respective technology
- Adobe Breeze Presentation account for community use
- Encourages ACEs to be active contributors via the Adobe Forums, UGs, writing articles and presentations

The key idea is to pick active community people for the program and provide Adobe related benefits, in return they are encouraged to keep being active. As a reward system, this makes complete since.

Community Negatives:
- Many are excluded due to being employees of Adobe or of one of their competitors. Some of the most active people fall into this category, so it's sad they don't get recognized.
- The term 'active' contributor seems very ill defined. Some ACEs are not nearly as active as others. As the program grows this will become a bigger issue.
- Due to the Adobe financial constraints, the ACE program does take funds away from the user groups, training centers and other efforts that may provide more direct benefits to the community.

If the ACE program is a reward system, then that makes sense to me. But, I would think that requires a  defined time limit. Say you're a ColdFusion ACE for 2010-2012, after which point you get renominated by the community. This would directly encourage the ACEs to remain very active. At present, there's no defined tenure for an ACE. So you could start off being very active, and then drop off over time. Adobe would be left to determine at some point what to do. This is entirely too messy and unclear.

The size of the program can be problematic as well. As this grows, it will require more energy for Adobe to maintain. In keeping the program small, would it not make it more valuable to be on the list (people work harder to get nominated) and it remains easier (and less expensive) to manage.

The size also creates interesting things within the program. For example, currently, there are ACEs in Authorware which is a discontinued product and also Flash Lite? Two are "Web Design" ACEs, not associated with a particular Adobe product line. There are AIR ACEs when Flex and AIR are very similar. There are currently 36 CF ACEs and 42 Flex ACEs. I would think that given the size of those communities and the focus by Adobe that CF would be quite a bit less than Flex.

The other problem is a simple business matter of opportunity costs. Adobe is spending money on people who are 'currently' active. They're not going to be 2-3 times more active after joining the program. However, in supplying more to the user groups and training centers that could easily generate a higher return on investment. This is just a  simple business calculation. With a finite amount to work with, you want to maximize your return. It would also, I think better help the community.


Brian Rinaldi

Brian Rinaldi wrote on 11/24/093:33 PM

So, as you know, I am a member of that program (i.e. ACE's) but I am also a user group manager (UGM) so I know of both sides. Firstly, as I mentioned on Twitter, you have it incorrect; current ACE's do indeed need to reapply every year (used to be every 6 mos) and I personally keep a tally of all that I do each year to include in my resume. Now, to be honest, I think part of what happened in the past was that anyone already in who reapplied was renewed but that is a separate problem and, from what I understand, something they are working hard to change.

As for it taking money away from user groups, I can't state whether that is true or not and not necessarily inclined to think that if there were no ACE's there would be more resources for UGMs. However, any bureaucratic process has its holes - so, just as some ACE's you might consider not up to your standards, so many user groups are often inactive yet still get a share of resources. Point is, UG's are not necessarily a more efficient use of your money.

Lastly, as to the ratios of people in different products, that is something I believe they have been working on the past few years. Keep in mind though that this program was inherited from Allaire and then Macromedia and thus, when it started, it was purely CF and obviously since Adobe purchased it there is a wider array of products to cover.
John Mason

John Mason wrote on 11/24/093:34 PM

Just got a correction on this. The ACEs do re-apply each year which is good. Naturally, I would prefer a community renomination format instead. I can't imagine an ACE re-applying and saying they didn't do anything over the past year ;)
John Mason

John Mason wrote on 11/24/093:41 PM

Thanks Brian for the feedback and correction. That's an interesting point about ineffective UGs. I've had my problems with that as well and how it bleeds the resources from Adobe. There are probably more inactive UGs than ACEs at this point, but that again could be an easy problem to fix. I know the auhtorized training centers have lost benefits since the transition from Macromedia to Adobe, so that plays into this as well.
Jeffry Houser

Jeffry Houser wrote on 11/24/093:45 PM

I'm an Adobe Community Expert, so you can read my response with a grain of salt at your leisure.

I think a lot of your understanding of the program is different than my understanding of the program.

When I originally found out about the Community Expert program it was pitched as a reward for contribution to the community around Adobe Products. Adobe does not dictate any future behavior; this is a reward for past behavior. I assume there are legal reasons for this which relate to the difference between volunteers and employees. I believe that Microsoft and AOL have been sued for similar issues in the past.

You mention that community use of Acrobat Connect is a positive. I see the ability to use Connect is a benefit to the expert, not to the community. While the expert can certainly use the tool for community purposes; there is no requirement by Adobe that we use it at all.

You mentioned that a benefit of the program is that members present, write, blog, and do other stuff. Most people get into the program for doing that sort of stuff; and while in it they continue to do that stuff. But there is no requirement or obligation to do that.

You mention the program should have a time limit. It does. Once a year every member must re-apply to be in the program.

I agree that the definition of "active" is open to interpretation. Just because you aren't aware of the user's activity, does not mean they aren't active. Neither you [nor I] know why that person got into the program, or what service they provided.

You mention entry to the program should be decided by the community. I do not agree w/ that. It is an Adobe program and Adobe should make decisions on who gets in or not. Currently the decisions are made by the Adobe Product Managers. In theory the product manager is aware of his/her community and will know the active members.

Also, I'm unclear how much money Adobe spends on the community expert program. We get some software (a soft costs for Adobe) and a new nifty title after our name; but beyond that we are on our own. Yes, they pay someone to manage the program but I perceive we are far less maintenance than the User Group Program which has product tours to coordinate and swag to create/ship. Add a dozen user groups is a bigger cost for Adobe than adding a dozen Community Experts.
Rob Brooks-Bilson

Rob Brooks-Bilson wrote on 11/24/093:54 PM


Just to be clear - the renewal process requires you to provide specific examples of your community involvement. You have to tell them what you do for the community. Renewal is not automatic:

*Forums you post to
*Books/articles written
*Speaking engagements
*Mailing lists

These are just some of the items they ask about.

One other area I do want to comment on is the idea that usergroups are somehow a better way for Adobe to reach customers and therefore a better spend than the Community Expert Program. Having been involved with various user groups over the years as well as the Allaire/Macromedia/Adobe Community Expert programs, it's been my observation that usergroups on average have at most a few hundred members. Of those, there are generally a dozen or two members that are regular meeting attendees. Given this, your average UG meeting has a reach of a few dozen people, plus another dozen or so if you do it over breeze - and that's only for a single meeting/presentation that takes place once a month on average.

Now contrast that with a Community Expert who happens to blog. I'd go as far as to say that the average blog entry from a Community Expert reaches far more people than an average UG meeting (global vs. local). Most Community Experts who blog generally do so several times a month (the majority of ace's for CF blog). If you are purely making a business decision where you want to maximize your return than it seems to me a program that supports bloggers who passionately discuss your technology is a pretty good spend of your resources.

This isn't to say that UG's don't have value - I think they offer tremendous value in a lot of cases, but I don't think it's fair to say that they are more effective (or cost effective) than Community Experts. It's just another form of outreach and marketing. Both have their places and I think they often work to different sets of users (with overlap, of course).

Just more to chew on...
John Mason

John Mason wrote on 11/24/094:02 PM


I mention Connect because it can be a benefit to the community if the ACE uses it for that purpose. Naturally, that entirely depends on the circumstances.

Actually in the FAQs it states "What does Adobe require from experts?" which is outline to be:

* Engaging in peer to peer support in the Adobe forums
* Posting information and technical support in their favorite online community
* Writing articles for professional publications
* Presenting Adobe product presentations at conferences and user groups

So it's not just past actions, but current stuff as well which I imagine is the reason for the yearly reapplication process. I say community nominated so the various product managers and Liz don't have to figure out every year if the ACE was really active or not. Off loading the work to the community whenever possible would be my advice. Also brings to mind the "Wisdom of the Crowds" book. Naturally, it's an Adobe program so they make the final decision anyway.
Jeffry Houser

Jeffry Houser wrote on 11/24/094:10 PM


That sort of stuff will help you get into the program for sure. But, I'm oblivious to any pressure from Adobe to do that sort of stuff. The FAQ sounds more like marketing speak to me than reality.
John Mason

John Mason wrote on 11/24/094:18 PM


Naturally if resources weren't a problem - I would be making the argument for more ACE's and UGs :).

It's also good to hear that there is a reapplication process, and if they cut people for inactivity, then that's good. I'm willing to concede that point.

An average ACE, I would certainly hope, would have more reach via a blog post than a typical UG meeting. What I tend to think is that the ACE's hit on the advance problems (like OO, design patterns, etc.) and the UGs tend to the beginners more. To grow we need to reach the beginners. That said, Ben Nadel and Ray Camden are very exceptional in that they hit the high level stuff and the intro things as well with their posts.
Rachel Lehman

Rachel Lehman wrote on 11/24/095:12 PM

I'm not an ACE, but I can say that I see a lot of value in the program, for a few reasons. One is that it offers rewards and incentives for the active community members who give a lot of their time and energy to the community. A lot of these experts spend hours of their personal time developing open source projects, writing blogs and speaking at conferences (often at their own expense). It's only fair that Adobe recognize their contributions.
Several ACEs I know personally have worked really hard specifically to attain or maintain that status, so I see firsthand how it motivates active community involvement. The ACE title can also open up a lot of career opportunities for those individuals, so it's great that Adobe can offer that to them.
It's sort of a "stamp of approval" from Adobe that says someone is an expert who is worth listening to. Those already active in the community may already know the "names" but for each one of those, there are hundreds or even thousands of users who are not active and may not know who the thought leaders are for a particular product. Recognizing someone as an ACE can be extremely helpful to these and other new community members seeking out mentors and resources.

I'm not worried about "neutrality" of ACEs. I don't determine which products to use based on how prolifically an individual blogs about it, I determine which products I'm going to use based on my needs and then seek out the best resources on it.

As Brian mentioned, it seems the Adobe team is working to cull ACEs who haven't contributed lately in favor of bringing in more active members, which I think is great. ACE is a title that is earned for real contributions.
Rachel Luxemburg

Rachel Luxemburg wrote on 11/24/095:37 PM

Hi John,

As the manager of the team that handles the Community Experts and the Adobe USer Groups, I wanted to clear up a couple of points for you.

First, yes, Adobe employees are excluded from being members of the Experts. The Experts are a group of community members who volunteer their time to assist other members of the Adobe community; adding in paid staffers to the mix creates confusion.

Our policy on employees of other companies is that if you're employed by a company who produces a product that directly competes with an Adobe product, then you cannot be a member of the Community Experts. This is because we share NDA-level information about upcoming products and features to the Experts. To allow competitors access to that information is problematic on a number of levels. (This is a policy that's in place for access to Adobe beta programs in general, not just the Community Experts, by the way.)

Since you specifically called out Railo, it is true that Railo employees are not admitted into the Experts, but this was something we discussed with the people in question and there was no ill-feeling involved.

Also, in regard to Adobe's funding -- the Community program funding is not a zero-sum game where more $ for the Experts means less for the User Groups (or the other way around). Both programs support our overall goals -- building a strong, growing community worldwide -- but in different ways. As several other commenters have noted already, there's more than one way to reach people, so both programs have value and roles to fill.
Liz Frederick

Liz Frederick wrote on 11/24/095:40 PM

Hi John! Glad to chime in as the Community Expert Manager. ;-)

You said, “The term 'active' contributor seems very ill defined. Some ACEs are not nearly as active as others.”

This is true and it is my job to see that they hold to their commitment. I look at their strengths and ability to contribute throughout the year. I will also give clear expectations that enable them to understand what being “active” means.

You said, “As the program grows this will become a bigger issue.”

We do not plan to allow it to grow much larger than it is already. However, if we have clear goals and expectations, the program should be equally successful if we grow in numbers.

You said, “As this grows, it will require more energy for Adobe to maintain.”

Good thing I have a lot of energy, John!
Our team understands how much energy it is going to require. So Adobe brought me in a couple months ago to give this program the attention it deserves.

In the past, I’ve had to work with over 100 experts/evangelists for conferences year round. No small task but I’m well aware of their needs and expectations. I know they can be a handful. However, the goal is community and I am utilizing them to fulfill as many requests for expert advise that comes our way. So they are entitled to ask a few questions and provide feedback. Requiring more energy isn’t a problem when you are talking about 200-300 very professional individuals who I value incredibly. Plus, I have a great team who are extremely supportive and we are constantly changing to improve how this program in maintained.

You said “I would think that given the size of those communities and the focus by Adobe that CF would be quite a bit less than Flex.

The number of experts in each product isn’t based on any number that is given to me from a higher source. We do have some imbalances on the Experts, due in large part to the program being a Macromedia / Allaire carryover. I am certainly working to find more Experts for other Adobe product, but it may take some time.
Sami Hoda

Sami Hoda wrote on 11/24/096:07 PM

FYI - I am also an Adobe Community Expert.

Just to cover your negative points:
Community Negatives:
- Many are excluded due to being employees of Adobe or of one of their competitors. Some of the most active people fall into this category, so it's sad they don't get recognized.

** That's why its Adobe Comm. Experts, not a generic ColdFusion Community Experts. This is also why the community doesn't decide, Adobe does.
** You should also note that there is a nomination process...

- The term 'active' contributor seems very ill defined. Some ACEs are not nearly as active as others. As the program grows this will become a bigger issue.
** Some ACEs are not as active in blogging as they are in other things that help Adobe. I can't get into it, but there are several opportunities to contribute... The Pre-Release program is one example.

To speak to "The size of the program can be problematic as well." - I believe there are less than 35 ColdFusion ACE's. It is small. And CF is the largest group last I heard, so its not as simple as 35 x # of Adobe Products.

Overall, I'm very happy with the program. Its always allowed me to step up my game, and to contribute more.
Dee Sadler

Dee Sadler wrote on 11/24/097:22 PM

Well, since I am an Independent Certified Instructor, Expert, UGM, etc. I'll throw in my $.02 cents.

There are plenty of Experts who spend tons of time on the Adobe forums. You may not know their name, but if you have a question, they are there to answer.

As to you talking about Training Centers. Adobe does almost nothing for the training centers. We get nothing in the way of money except discounts and access to pre-release software a few months before released so we can get up to speed before we train on it. I can say as a UGM and Community Expert, I've received MUCH more love from Adobe.

Maybe an Expert is an author, again he/she may not blog much. There are, like pointed out tons of ways to be helpful to both Adobe and the Community.

We, UGM's, tend to be a needier bunch by far than the Community Experts.
John Mason

John Mason wrote on 11/25/093:08 PM

I guess what I'm driving at is that many of the ACEs are already highly motivated regardless. I suspect how the program itself affects each of them may be different.

Fair enough in regards to Railo et al. However, I can't agree with the 'zero-sum game' position when it's one company with a finite amount of funds. It may work within the goals of Adobe, but the question is more directed to the goals of the commnunity. Naturally, that's a fairly open question with no clear answer.

Yes, you certainly have a lot of energy, and Adobe was very wise to hire you. Yep the imbalance within the group can be tricky to work out. I would think that some of the CFers would be heading towards Flex, and the Authorware people have to find a new product line at some point. The 'Flash Lite' and 'Web Design' categories didn't make any sense to me.

All good, I wouldn't argue that the program doesn't help the individual ACEs. More trickle down to the overall community would be nice. Perhaps 'encouraging' the ACEs to present at least 2 times each year to a local User group, etc. They really should be actve members of their local groups anyway. The number of CF ACEs is simply not in line with the other communities like Flash and Flex. I see how this came about, but at the same time it has been a while since the Macromedia and Allaire mergers.

Thanks for adding the training center/instructor part of this. I share office space with an Adobe training center here in Atlanta and it really surprises me how Adobe has trim any benefits from that program. Really makes me wonder about the logic behind all this.

All good stuff, thanks everyone for responding. I know I learn from these discussions and hopefully others, reading this, will too.
Sean Corfield

Sean Corfield wrote on 12/07/0911:34 AM

I was a member of the Community Experts program between leaving Adobe (May 2007) and joining Railo (April 2009). To get into the program you have to be nominated by an existing expert. I'm surprised no one mentioned that. You have to have a proven track record of community activity. To be renewed you must be active during the last twelve months. So to stay in the program you must stay active in the community. Does it benefit the community? Yes I think so because it encourages community experts to remain active and help other community members. Are the experts neutral?Well no of course not but they already had to be advocates of Adobe to get in!

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