Date: Wednesday, February 15th, 2006, 08:22
I have been talking to members of the ChronosTalk Google Group, as well as Senior Management at Chronos.
What wasn’t clear to me originally is that this entire episode centered around the antics of one user. There are other individuals participating in various forums, including ChronosTalk, who are unhappy with the way Chronos conducts their forums but saying that they were “run out on rails” was something that Chronos objected to. Apparently one of them has been, and its unfortunate really that something escalated so far as to have Chronos think that this required such drastic action, but Chronos has a right to run their forums however they want.
The most important part of my correspondance with Chronos was this:
This isn’t an outrageous request. Apple themselves will go through and purge things from Apple discussions when they don’t meet the criteria that Apple designates for their discussions.
Chronos management also informs me that they have only taken action against one individual in particular who was especially unable or unwilling to abide by the rules of the Chronos forum. So while there may be other individuals that feel that this person was treated unfairly, they will no doubt be welcome to discuss or commiserate with fellow users on ChronosTalk that feel somehow slighted.
I suppose the best suggestion that can be given is to read the discussions in ChronosTalk and make your own conclusions based on that. I can say that the management at Chronos has been quite responsive anad more than willing to answer any and all questions I’ve given them, and this leads me to believe that they did everything they could before taking drastic actions to remove a user from their community. Since the Chronos forums are intended as a customer-outreach and troubleshooting resource for their users, I don’t think they have any obligation not to censor or otherwise remove posts that don’t meet their criteria. I don’t think that this is a real travesty, there are plenty of discussion forums about products that are well outside the purview of the publisher or retailer.
Fact is, there are users that feel slighted in some way and have decided to take their conversations elsewhere. This happens with every publisher of software. It still remains to be seen if the ChronosTalk mailing list will end up being anything other than a water cooler to moan about Chronos, but you never know.
I have no reason to believe that people are making up claims that their posts are edited or deleted, but Chronos did say that this has never happened. They claim that they removed posts from one person, who is clearly bent out of shape about it. Chronos told me that they don’t edit posts and that they haven’t deleted any posts other than the ones from their problem child, however some of the users I spoke to did say that Chronos has asked them to edit their own posts. That seems a bit rash at first glance, but it is a perfectly reasonable request. They can run their forums any way they want, which is precisely why some users are more comfortable talking about their products elsewhere.
This could be taken as a cautionary tale of sorts. Everything I could find on the Chronos site from the user in question was usually remarkably helpful. This user responded to fellow users often before Chronos themselves. Granted, I know some posts have been deleted, but every post Chronos left behind that was authored by this individual really paints an interesting picture. This guy should have been on the Chronos payroll for all the assistance he was giving his fellow users. He was always at the ready with assistance for his fellow users, though often candidly. These are the passionate users that most companies desperately try to seek — they evangelize and keep you on your toes and drive development to make your products better. I really don’t understand why a user like this is such a burden on a software publisher, when the posts on the Chronos forums lead me to believe that they could benefit from a deeper QA cycle and critical feedback.
As for my opinion on some of their products, captured below:
Like I said, it is my opinion. It is unbiased in that I don’t care if anyone uses any of the products mentioned and I have no stake in any of them. I’ve used StickyBrain in the past. I’ve also used F-10 Launch Studio. I didn’t like them. I thought there were much better options out there. Unbiased doesn’t mean merely nodding and smiling.
I was completely unimpressed by the versions of StickyBrain I had used and found most reviewers to be far too forgiving of its shortcomings. Having said that, I have not used StickyBrain 4, and it appears to be a completely different application from the one I last used. Though F-10 Launch Studio seems remarkably underwhelming when compared to even LaunchBar, which is trailing behind the free QuickSilver in my usage.
Since I feel that the version of StickyBrain I used wasn’t good, I offered to give SitckyBrain 4 a try and write an actual review of it, rather than my opinion. Chronos’s management mentioned that they didn’t think I could write a positive review because of my strong opinion of their older release.
I don’t know if thats true. If I didn’t like their software in the past, they’re assuming I wouldn’t like it today. Why not? Is it not better? They list several improvements on their website, and it does seem to be a very different application from the I last used. Just because I thought the older one wasn’t any good doesn’t mean that I’d think the new one came up short too. I can see why they’d be concerned that my review wouldn’t be positive. I think I’ve demonstrated that I have a strong opinion. But reviews shouldn’t be positive unless the product warrants it, right?
I debated not even publishing an update to this story, and just yanking it. But I got the distinct impression that the people at Chronos didn’t want to hear any criticism, even in a private email. They didn’t seem to believe that I could evaluate something on its merits because of my strong opinions of the older versions of their application. I would hope that improvements were made to their applications to make them better, in order to compel users to upgrade, and to get new users.
At some point in the near future I’ll be kicking the tires on StickyBrain. There is a lot of competition in the small personal information manager space these days, and a lot of people do seem to love StickyBrain, so they’re doing something right. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t coddle software developers. I would think that those are precisely the kind of reviews someone would want to read. I’m not compelled to buy StickyBrain by reading a superficial review of the Chronos marketing materials. If people want a review that consists of regurgitating these marketing materials of the publisher, you can certainly find them, but I don’t think that helps anyone except the publisher. Our audience is largely mobile Mac users that have work to do. Software reviews should help people make a decision.
StickyBrain isn’t an expensive application, but there are free methods of managing information as well and I think a critical look at applications like it benefit the users as well as the publisher. Giving a critical look doesn’t mean negative. It means critical. I don’t understand why my opinion of StickyBrain in the past taints my opinion on the product now, but I can’t help but be very curious why they think it would. Software should evolve and get better over time. It seems like a logical progression to me. I’m perfectly willing to accept the possibility that StickyBrain 4 is amazing. Anything is possible. As an example I thought Apple Mail was completely inept until Tiger. I still think that their implementation of IMAP sucks because it can’t handle something as fundemental as folder subscriptions. Ever try reading email off an Exchange Server with a bunch of Public Folders? What a travesty that is!
It is entirely possible that ChronosTalk will wither and die, and very likely that people will happily continue to post their bug reports on the official Chronos Forums, and all of this will soon be forgotten. But I think it is important to realize that sometimes you will get a passionate user that will try to keep you honest, and there may be a lesson there for publishers to learn from.
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