Acrobat.com has left the building…

Share -> Acrobat.com

I’m glad I can finally talk more about the project that has been consuming me for the last fifteen months – the first beta release of Acrobat.com. One of the questions the end users of SHARE ask us a lot is whether SHARE is just a short-lived experiment – they worry that Adobe will just shut it down one day and they’ll lose their files. I think the announcement of Acrobat.com, with what was once known as share acting as the central file hub, should address that question pretty convincingly. It was hard not being able to give people a real answer before.

Beyond that, there is so much to talk about here that I need to split things up into several blog posts. For this first post, I’m going to talk about the project from a more personal and historical perspective. Future posts will discuss the design of the new file organizer and the work that was done to make SHARE scale.

I came into the project myself somewhat serendipitously: just a couple of months before, I’d taken a job as an architect in the Acrobat team, thinking about how we could further extend PDF’s reach – on the web, on mobile devices, etc. One of the things I designed was a better experience for viewing PDFs in Flash, which ended up being one of the key features of Adobe Share. At the time, though, I was really thinking more about mobile devices. (I did some other cool design/prototype work, some of which may show up in Acrobat.com one of these days…). But then there was a reorg, and my boss had me take over an existing group that was responsible for several existing hosted services around PDF, most notably Create PDF, Adobe Document Center (which lets you protect PDF files), and pdf2html (an online PDF to text/HTML converter intended primarily for accessibility). Together, these services generate quite a bit of traffic, a lot more than people might think. But they weren’t generating enough traffic or revenue to make them into a viable business in and of themselves. We joined forces with the Acrobat Connect team who were working on a next generation web conferencing platform that became Brio. Our mission was to take the talented and experienced teams who had built those services and help them build something more successful that focused on collaborative work in its myriad forms.

For my team, the first step was to build SHARE, which was first released in October 2007: something extremely easy to use and that solved a real world problem, something we could build relatively quickly and get feedback on from real users. From that perspective SHARE was a huge success. We’ve gotten a lot of user signups, we’ve shipped a lot of releases, and we’ve learned how to scale our underlying platform. That platform, by the way, is largely based on the Document Center code-base. But you’d never know it by looking at the UIs of the two products (click the image to view full-size):

Doc Center vs. Share

(I also need to mention that we had a lot of help on the SHARE UI from our talented 😄 designers – thanks y’all!)

Along the way we also bought Buzzword, which fit in incredibly well with our strategy for acrobat.com. When you look at the product today you can see how well the pieces fit together, and it shouldn’t be hard for people to figure out how we’re going to mesh these projects even more closely in the future. It also shouldn’t be hard to see how the incredible UI design of Buzzword has influenced the design of the rest of Acrobat.com – one of the things we’ve been working very hard on is redoing the user interface of SHARE, using the Buzzword document organizer as a starting point. But Buzzword’s organizer only had to deal with one type of document, it didn’t support thumbnails, and it wasn’t built to help people organize larger numbers of files. Once again, we worked with a lot of talented designers to come up with a new design. I think the new organizer in Acrobat.com has really come up with some innovative ways of solving those problems, which I’ll discuss more in a future blog post. Again, a side by side comparison is in order:

Share 1.3.5 vs. Acrobat.com
We also had a very fruitful collaboration with the teams who make Acrobat and Reader. These teams are much larger and better organized than ours, and they are working on a much more mature product. I know there were more than a few times when they wanted to throttle us because our product reliability was “chaotic”, and I want to thank them for their forbearance. I think the end result is going to be an incredible boon to our customers – the workflows for Shared Review and Forms are vastly easier to use now that they are integrated with Acrobat.com, and having our AIR application included with Reader should help a lot of those users share their documents with others.

Looking forward, I’m incredibly excited about the future stuff we’re working on as a group. Supporting more and better ways to organize your work, adding new types of collaborative workflows, adding subscription features people will gladly pay for, and even inventing whole new classes of applications. I’ve been very lucky in my career to have been able to work on three completely new categories of commercial software, all of them focused on collaboration: first Pink/Taligent, then PlaceWare (which eventually became Microsoft Live Meeting), and now Acrobat.com. I expect that Acrobat.com will be by far the most successful, whether measured in terms of revenue, number of users, or, most importantly, as measured in the effect it has on the way people work together.

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~ by Andrew Shebanow on 01Jun08.

2 Responses to “Acrobat.com has left the building…”

  1. […] of other bloggers have the news today that Adobe has launched Acrobat.com with five great free knowledge worker […]

  2. […] of the questions the end users of SHARE ask us a lot is whether SHARE is just a short-lived experihttp://shebanation.com/2008/06/01/acrobatcom-has-left-the-building/JNBridge Announces Availability of JNBridgePro 4.0 at Tech-Ed 2008 PR Newswire via Yahoo! Finance […]

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