I'm speaking at MAX? WTF?

Aral Speaks at max Pigs Flying

Yes, it's true, I'm speaking at MAX 2007 this year. But why, after being so vocally against their policies in the past? Simple. Because Adobe listened and they're making an effort to change, starting with the MAX conferences this year.

My criticism of MAX in the past centered around three things:

  1. They didn't pay speaker's expenses.
  2. You couldn't choose your own topic to present.
  3. It felt too much like a sales event that ignored the community.

This year, I'm happy to say, they've addressed all three of my concerns.

To qualify the first point a little further, it's important to realize that there are two types of speakers at events like these: Corporate and community.

Corporate speakers are there to evangelize their products. They may be Adobe Evangelists or evangelists from partner companies. Their sessions are usually product-based and showcase their latest and greatest features. When done right, i.e., when the speaker doesn't come off like a used car salesman, I personally find these sessions very valuable. I attended a couple such sessions during Adobe Live and learned quite a few things about the latest version of Photoshop.

Community speakers, on the other hand, are a very different group. They're not there to sell you a product but to share their experiences, knowledge, and, hopefully, inspire you. I remember how sessions by Branden and Joshua at the very first Flashforward conference I attended ages ago inspired me to learn more about Flash and get involved with the Flash community. A single inspirational session by a great speaker can easily make attending a conference worthwhile for me. In recent times, I've attended just such amazing sessions by Ze Frank, John Maeda, Jeremy Keith, Mario Klingemann, Brendan Dawes, Erik Natzke, Seb Lee Delisle, John Grden and Chris Allen, Keith Peters, Chris Orwig, and others. These are the sessions that energize me, widen my horizons, and inspire me to create things. In other words, they're invaluable.

One major difference between corporate and community speakers is that while corporate speakers are on company time when presenting at these events, earning their salaries and expensing their accounts, community speakers (for the most part) are not (some community speakers do work for companies like Yahoo! and Google who do pay their expenses, which is fair enough). One of my major beefs with MAX in the past was that it wouldn't pay for community speaker's expenses. This year, things have begun to change in this area and they are covering expenses for a select group of community speakers, including myself. I see this as a very positive step forward.

To put this into perspective, Adobe is a billion dollar company and yet they're listening to community feedback. As a comparison, Apple doesn't pay speakers to present at MacWorld. Do you think any amount of criticism by the community would get them to listen and change their policy on this? (The most I would expect is a fanboy response stating "Apple doesn't owe you anything!") *ducks* :)

The other issue I had with MAX was that you were pretty much asked to speak on a given topic and present the same (often product-related) session several times. In other words, it felt like you were being employed to be a corporate speaker when, in fact, you weren't even being employed. This year, with the "inspire" line of sessions, that's changing too. I'm going to be presenting the latest version of my Rediscovering Fun session and talking about SWX. At MAX. That rocks! :)

This year's MAX is going to be the first one that embraces the amazing community Adobe has around its products and all I can say is, it was about time! I believe that Adobe is finally realizing that the Flash community is far more than a loose conglomeration tied together by commercial interests: It's a living, breathing, passionate family of designers and developers who truly love working on this amazing platform. Among other things, it feels like Adobe has finally begun to realize that this community is one of the things that sets it apart from the purely corporate, follow-the-bucks community that Microsoft has. (Microsoft does an amazing job of building an economy around its products but the monetary incentive is almost entirely the only thing that binds people to it -- not so with the Flash community.)

So is this a clever short-term PR move on Adobe's part or are they truly committed to involving the community in MAX and other Adobe events? There are several strong indicators I've seen that point to the latter.

Firstly, Adobe must be aware of the wonderful feedback Adobe Live Amsterdam got for its Developer Track this year. I was personally floored by the positive feedback my sessions got and I know that the other developer sessions were held in similarly high esteem. At about the same time, Adobe Live in the UK, with an expanded designer and developer track, also got very favorable reviews. The message from this is clear: Involving the community in these events is a winning formula.

Secondly, my good friend Ted Patrick has been tasked with heading up preparations for MAX this year. Ted is one my oldest Flash buddies and has been in the Flash community for as long as I can remember. He's a Flash developer that I both admire and respect and, most importantly, coming from the community, he understands the community. Putting Ted in charge of MAX is a clear signal from Adobe that they want MAX to have a much stronger community focus.

Personally, I am very excited about MAX this year and I want to thank my friends at Adobe for listening and for taking those most important first steps towards changing things.

Here's to the best MAX conferences ever in Chicago, Barcelona and Japan! (I'm especially looking forward to Japan as it will be my first time there and I've been dying to go for ages!) :)