Adobe Blog Squad Unmasked

What is the Adobe Blog Squad? What do they do? Who are they?

My first run in with the Adobe Blog Squad was a week or two ago when I wrote an unfavorable article about Adobe Flex. Shortly after, I had received a comment from James Ward.

James Ward is an employee of Adobe. According to his blog, he is a Technical Evangelist. I don’t know if this is an official posting at Adobe, but it almost has to be these days.

Mr. Ward seemed to very nicely critique my article. This is called the Good Cop. He swooped in to graciously and coherently rebut my opinion. Fine, all good so far.

Shortly after, another comment appeared by a man named Mike Potter. A quick background check shows that he is currently involved in marketing at Adobe as well.

So, shortly after posting a negative article, two people from Adobe show up, both involved in marketing or self-proclaimed “evangelism”. Hmm…

Mr. Potter was, on the surface, as amicable as Mr. Ward, and yet here he is posting on my blog like it somehow matters and he needs to quell the uprising before it begins.

It’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Adobe has employees that are scouring Digg and other sites for anything that can be construed as being negative press, and making sure they try to squash it. Whether this behavior is condoned by Adobe or not has yet to be seen.

It would be in the best interest of Adobe to silence these men, in my opinion. Looking at their websites, as well as some of their previous blog comments, you can tell there are some things they are (or were) ignorant of.

One of them is search engine optimization. From a blog posting a few months ago, the author had a few issues with Flex, including the ability to search Google and other search engines for the content inside Flash. This point sailed right over Mr. Potter’s head:

Search engines index .swf content no problem. A Google search for filetype:swf gives 48 million results for me.

Bravo at looking somewhat foolish. Of course it’s not a terrible mistake to make for a nontechnical person, but for a technical person working at such a public technological company, it is a sin.

In fact, it does nothing but showcase the issue that Adobe, and Macromedia before them, had: lack of knowledge about search engines.

Flash sucks for search engine optimization. Exclusive Flash sites are SEO suicide. This is because the content in the Flash is completely invisible to crawlers. Sure, there is a half-assed tool from Adobe, but without jumping through hoops, Flash is a terrible tool to use in large doses. Same goes for Flex, obviously, as it is just a complex Flash compiler.

Adobe, please leave your crack blog marketing squad at home, and instead listen to people’s complaints and issues without an immediate defensive stance. A little listening, and less arguing, would go a long way.

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19 thoughts on “Adobe Blog Squad Unmasked

  1. Hi James,

    Mike, I and many of the other evangelists at Adobe read hundreds of blogs a week about Adobe technologies. We like to participate in the blog ecosystem since it is our main connection to the community. To avoid the appearance of astro-turfing we always try to identify ourselves as Adobe employees when we participate in conversations.

    I’d love to hear more of your feedback about Flex. Feel free to email me: jaward@adobe.com And next time I’m in Boston maybe I can take you out for a beer so that I can hear more of your thoughts.

    -James (Technical Evangelist @ Adobe)

  2. hah, I never thought Adobe being active in the blogosphere would come back to haunt them. Shame on James, Mike and the other evangelists for spending their precious time giving a first-hand perspective on these issues.

    No, SEO for Flash content is not perfect — compare the situation to what you see with AJAX apps. There are steps being made in the right direction though, look at deep linking support etc. a few good practices like using SWFObject also goes a long way.

  3. I think that regardless of whether its part of their job or not, it’s only natural for someone who works for a company to support their products.

    I’ll take 1 beer please. And a tickle.

  4. Peter:

    It’s not the activity that bothers me, that’s great. It’s the spirit of the postings. Ultimately, even though Mr. Ward (AKA Good Cop) extended an olive branch, the real motivation must be one of pure marketing and public image, as the knee-jerk response of most comments seems to immediately jump on the defensive.

    The point I made in the article about search engines is the same one I was going to use here. He made an assumption and ran with it to defend Flash/Flex, and the assumption was wrong.

    The mere fact that you STILL need to use third-party tools in order to get any kind of decent web rankings is appalling. Including SWFObject “out-of-the-box” would be an amazing step. They should work with this guy, get him to help them out. Instead, they merely recommend people use that product to fix the glaring problems in their own products. That is, in my opinion, irresponsible for a company as large as Adobe.

    My point is all the SEO practices that are used right now are non-Adobe hacks. They need to get on the ball for stuff like this.

  5. I’ve got a number of RSS feeds that I monitor on a regular basis, and most of them have to do with the product that I work on: Flex.

    We’re working on the Flex SEO “problem”, but the fact remains that Google can index .swf files, it just can’t index swf files that load content dynamically. At Adobe MAX last week we mentioned that we’re working with major search companies to fix this, but we don’t have a timetable yet.

    There could also be a debate on whether or not you actually want your Flex applications searchable. For example, it makes no sense to index Picnik, a Flex based photo editing application. However, it might make sense to index an online store built with Flex.

    “Adobe has employees that are scouring Digg and other sites for anything that can be construed as being negative press, and making sure they try to squash it. Whether this behavior is condoned by Adobe or not has yet to be seen.”
    Actually, I’m also scouring sites that mention Flex positively and commenting on those blogs as well.

    “Same goes for Flex, obviously, as it is just a complex Flash compiler.” Flex is more than just a complex Flash compiler. James can fill you in when the two of you head out for beer.

    Mike

  6. Mike –

    When people talk about the SEO problem with Flash and Flex, the issue isn’t indexing the swf files themselves. The problem is there is a ton of content that people load into Flash instead of placing it on the page. That content is completely invisible to search engines.

    You put problem in quotes, indicating you don’t really believe it’s a problem. It’s really bigger than you think.

    As an example, let’s take a page that uses a static Flash tool for simple navigation. I work with a site like this so it’s something close to home for me. At the top of the page, say, there’s a nice image, 3 tabs, a link to the content, and a description of the content on that page.

    Yeah, it looks slick and works well. Problem is that the content in the description, the link anchor text, and any kind of emphasis in the text using font styling is completely and utterly lost to the search engines.

    That’s a major strike. Those are big deals in SEO. Linking from Flash is great in theory, but hurts in the long run because that’s an instant hit to keywords on your page. You can put emphasis on text in Flash all you want, the googlebot can’t see it so the effort is wasted from a technical standpoint (not from a user standpoint obviously). The text in the Flash is effectively not on a page.

    The best way to see what googlebot sees is to go to a site using Lynx (or a lynx emulator). If you go to an all-Flash site, you will see literally nothing. Not a thing. Empty, blank, there is nothing there.

    It has nothing to do with indexing swf files themselves.

    If I am wrong about the content within flash being indexed, I would love to be pointed in the right direction, and if this is the case then it is Adobe’s best kept secret.

  7. James, what is this tinfoil hat stuff:

    It would be in the best interest of Adobe to silence these men, in my opinion. Looking at their websites, as well as some of their previous blog comments, you can tell there are some things they are (or were) ignorant of.

    So, Adobe should just sit around and not answer any criticism because you are disturb by the notion of a company paying people to read and participate.

    I’ve met James, after having written a pretty negative piece about Flex, he’s intelligent and (most of the time) spot on.

    String in a Flash SWF are easily derived using tools like swfinfo, using Lynx isn’t an accurate measure of how a page appears to Google’s index.

  8. Tim:

    That’s not what I said at all, read the text you yourself quoted. There are concepts that they are talking about, yet are completely missing the point, misunderstanding, and giving incorrect information and responses on. Most of these seem incredibly knee-jerk.

    And yes there are plenty of third party tools that make Flash behave correctly to search engines. When your product relies on a third party (open source / free too!) software to work right, and it’s not being incorporated into the product itself, it just shows that people either don’t know how their own product is being used, or they are blatantly ignoring the problem.

    All this talk about it “being fixed” yet treating it like a nonproblem (as Mike Potter did above in the comments) implies that it’s something Adobe doesn’t care about. I don’t know if that’s the message the company wants to send, but that’s what happens when you talk about concepts like that.

    And you’re saying that Lynx isn’t how a page appears to Google, fine. Content-wise, it’s true though. There are ways to mask that but it’s a great indicator of how your site looks content/keyword wise to a bot.

  9. I put it in quotes because in many cases companies don’t want to index Flex applications. Flex is designed for developing rich Internet applications. And in many cases people do not want their applications to be indexed. (I gave examples of this above, like Picnik. For some others, check out the Flex.org Showcase at http://flex.org/showcase/).

    I’m not saying there’s not a problem – take the showcase itself for example. It would be great to have Google index the content in that showcase and be able to link directly to applications in the showcase. Currently that is possible, but you’re right, it requires a solution that is not built into Flex. As I mentioned, we’re working with the search engines to fix this, but its complicated and takes time. Some developers have tried to fix this problem. Check out solutions on my blog at http://www.riapedia.com/tags/seo

    “The best way to see what googlebot sees is to go to a site using Lynx (or a lynx emulator). If you go to an all-Flash site, you will see literally nothing. Not a thing. Empty, blank, there is nothing there.” That’s not true, the search that I mentioned for filetype:swf shows that Google does in fact index .swf files, though just the static content in them. There’s an entire SDK that can be licensed by search companies to index SWF content:
    http://www.adobe.com/licensing/developer/search/faq/

    “As an example, let’s take a page that uses a static Flash tool for simple navigation. I work with a site like this so it’s something close to home for me. At the top of the page, say, there’s a nice image, 3 tabs, a link to the content, and a description of the content on that page.
    Yeah, it looks slick and works well. Problem is that the content in the description, the link anchor text, and any kind of emphasis in the text using font styling is completely and utterly lost to the search engines.”
    As I mentioned above, this isn’t a Flash problem, its a Google problem. They can obviously see the emphasis in the Flash content, they need to modify their algorithm to take this into account. Its not that they can’t see the emphasis, its that they don’t use that information in the same way that they use similar tags in HTML.

    Mike

  10. Mike-

    Interestingly, I just searched for a string of text that I know is found in a piece of static content on one of the sites I work on (no, I won’t tell you what site, sorry, maintaining some distance between my work and my personal blog) and that site did not come back in my search. It was most likely on the last page, because when I searched for the literal string (in quotes etc) it and only it showed up.

    Flex sites this did not work for. This only cements my belief that Adobe needs to start including SFObject out of the box, instead of merely recommending it. What’s the point of Flash etc. spitting out a useless archaic object/embed tag that everyone changes when they use anyway?

    Solution: Get SWFObject/deconcept onboard and have Flash spit out an HTML with that code already written as opposed to something no one uses.

    Also it would be great if Adobe did this and didn’t pull the infamous “buy the latest version for the musthave features that should be used universally”, and instead retrofitted previous versions of Flash to include this as well. How hard can it be to just spit out a different set of HTML and include a .js file?

  11. You should be complementing Adobe for their efforts to participate in the community, rather than blasting them like they are doing something unethical. If all vendors would show the same commitment to participating and listening to the community, we would all be better off. Honestly, I find it a bit silly that you would write a negative ill-informed post on Flex, and not expect a response from those who know the product best.
    Jon (non-Adobe employee – fan of Flex)

  12. Jon-

    Participating in the community is one thing, but to me, having someone in a discussion about an Adobe product who is signing their posts that they are a member of Adobe is an instant red flag that their answers might be biased, disingenuous, etc.

    Imagine the backlack is Microsoft employees were responding to anti-Microsoft posts. Do you really think they would get the same welcome reception? Very doubtful. That’s why Microsoft has programs in place for rewarding active members of the community.

    Maybe Adobe should adopt that strategy? Instead of having employees going around heralding their own products, have people like you, fans of the products who use them in real world situations, rewarded for doing the same thing.

    To me, as someone who has had terrible experiences with previous Adobe(technically Macromedia, but you buy their past…) products, I think I would respond better to someone who had no personal attachment to the product.

  13. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet the technical people who are without bias. You clearly have your own biases. Your experiences may not reflect on how others will receive Flex / Flash, and I think it is more than fair for the Adobe folks to point out their views. With your title and tone, you make it sound like they are trying to be sneaky, which is clearly not the case.

    If you follow your logic out, you are saying that vendor’s should not have a voice in the community (stay away Adobe, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, Google, BEA, etc…). Clearly there are many bright people at all of these companies. I for one welcome their voices in the community and wish that more vendors would work to embrace developers.

  14. Here is my 2 cents : i am personally really happy with the involvement of Adobe in the community. It’s something quite new for a lot of people, but so cool ! 🙂 They are intensively bloggin’, they answer your questions posted on mailing lists, comment your blog posts (positives or negatives) on their products, and even reply to your emails (yep, for sure) !
    So, what do you prefer : this way of being closer to the community, or this damn paying support where it’s often not technical specialists who are answering to your questions ?

    “Adobe, please leave your crack blog marketing squad at home, and instead listen to people’s complaints and issues without an immediate defensive stance.”

    Com’on Adobe guys, you really rock !

  15. I would like to add that you CAN get your dynamic Flash site to be indexed by Google with a few really simple tricks.

    Go ahead and search for something like “bad photoshop retouch” or “new cnn website flash” on Google. The first result that pops up will be my site (http://webkitchen.be) and guess what… This is a full Flash site.

    But I agree, there should be easier ways to do this “out-of-the-box” and as some of my colleagues have already pointed out, this is on our radar.

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