Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tap Dancing On the Grave of CFDJ

Please note that the comments that follow are my own. When I refer to the CFDJ editorial board I am not speaking for anyone on the board, but am merely making reference to the general sentiment among some members of the board and the general direction things were headed on the board prior to the announcement that Sys-Con was ceasing production of CFDJ.

I find it simultaneously funny, irritating, sad, and wholly appropriate that I first learned of the demise of ColdFusion Developer's Journal in the blogosphere. I gave Sys-Con far too much credit thinking they might let the CFDJ editorial board, of which I was a member, know that they're killing the publication. Others have echoed many of the thoughts I have about the situation, but I do want to offer my own perspective as a former member of the editorial board.

As Brian Rinaldi explained, the editorial board--such as it was--didn't serve as an advisory board at all, but rather was seen as a standing pool of free labor for writing articles. Don't misunderstand me; I actually enjoy writing articles, but this isn't supposed to be the main function of an editorial board. When Brian said we were largely ignored I think that understates the situation. We were actually seen as a nuisance by the power that be (and yes, the singular "power" is intentional) that needed to be lied to in order to keep us from revolting.

But revolt was afoot and had been for months. Revolt is probably a bit strong, because the real plan among many of us was resignation, and we spent a great deal of time crafting a document that we had planned to submit to Sys-Con explaining in great detail all the problems we saw with CFDJ as well as concrete, workable solutions to resolve many of them. I personally saw this as a last-ditch effort because, in my opinion, if they didn't implement our proposals, I was convinced CFDJ would not survive. We didn't even get the chance to submit our proposals.

Over the past several months the board tried repeatedly to address the horrendous problems with CFDJ and were continually ignored. With a change in leadership at the CFDJ when Jeremy Geelan left, we saw that as an opportunity to get some fresh ears on our suggestions. We were again ignored. Worse, we were more or less told to shut up and write articles. Never mind the horrible quality of CFDJ, never mind that a typo managed to appear on the cover of a recent issue when you have an editorial board sitting around doing nothing when they could be editing and proofreading, and never mind the fact that everyone in the target community hates the web site so much they either refuse to use it or write Greasemonkey scripts to make the site even tolerable. Just shut up and write articles.

The editorial board was extremely patient, too much so in my opinion. In the end it wouldn't have mattered, but we did our best to offer concrete suggestions for improvement and they were continually ignored. We understand that Sys-Con is in the business of making money, but they do so at the expense of their own customers, which is an extremely short-sighted business plan. If no one goes to your web sites because they're so awful, and no one subscribes to your publications because they're of such poor quality, then you lose the customers you have and have to create new publications and gain new customers to stay afloat. Even a first year business school student knows that it costs a lot to win new customers as opposed to keeping the ones you have happy. As an aside, do you ever wonder why you get Java Developer's Journal for free even if you don't want it? Because it ups their "subscription" numbers, which means more ad revenue for Sys-Con.

Let me first address Sys-Con's press release, because it's the weakest attempt at spin I think I've ever seen, and I live in Washington, DC. You can't "relaunch" a publication about Adobe ColdFusion as a publication about Microsoft Silverlight. I can't fathom why Sys-Con even chose to phrase it that way other than an extremely weak attempt at placating the ColdFusion community, and I'm not even sure why they'd bother since the ColdFusion community as a whole reviled Sys-Con already. Do what you feel you need to do from a business perspective, but show some fortitude and state things as they are. You're ceasing publication of CFDJ. The launch of a new Silverlight journal is a separate and completely unrelated act.

In Sys-Con's press release they have a bit of a dig at Adobe for pulling funding of CFDJ. I for one applaud Adobe for pulling their funding, and I'm sorry, but with the astronomical and annoying number of ads on all your properties, if you need money from Adobe to keep CFDJ afloat, you're doing something drastically wrong. The print version of CFDJ, the web site, and most of all the reputation of Sys-Con (see Sean's post for a recap of all the irritating and, given the anti-spam laws, potentially illegal business practices) were nothing but a blight on ColdFusion. If people interested in ColdFusion went to the CFDJ web site to learn more, that's about the worst impression anyone could get of any technology. If Microsoft is funding the Silverlight Journal I hope they know who they're getting in bed with. I'm sure Sys-Con just sees Silverlight as a new, hot technology to make some ad revenue from even though they know nothing about the technology itself, and given how they've handled CFDJ and other publications in the past (see Brandon Harper's post and some posts about the LinuxWorld issues of the past for more information), it's quite clear that their singular goal is to make money from ads, not release a quality product.

To summarize all of this for historical purposes, here are the modest proposals the editorial board made to Sys-Con that were ignored.

  • Get serious about the quality of the articles and the journal itself

  • Release issues in a timely fashion

  • Make CFDJ current and relevant

  • Provide quality content for all levels of readers

  • Create a web site that is content with ads, not ads with content

  • Fix the email newsletters and allow people to unsubscribe

  • Treat the editorial board as an editorial board

To the editorial board these seemed perfectly reasonable, logical proposals that would lead to a higher-quality product. To Sys-Con this was apparently a distraction from the business of shoving multimedia ads down everyone's throats to make a quick buck.

No one in the ColdFusion community should give the death of CFDJ a second thought. It was a horrible publication and a horrible web site, and the ColdFusion community deserves much better. It was a black eye on the CF community and we should be thankful that it's gone.

So what do we as a community do now? We do what we do best and throw our support behind what is good in the world of CF writing, which at this point takes various forms including the printed Fusion Authority Quarterly Update, the numerous fantastic ColdFusion blogs, and Adobe's own Developer Center. I think the "make CFDJ current and relevant" comment above is what killed CFDJ for me a long time ago. With all these other great resources available, CFDJ stopped being relevant a very long time ago, and without trying to offend FAQU, I'm beginning to question whether or not print is a good medium for tech information these days.

As a bit of a teaser, I'll also say that some of us have been talking behind the scenes about a new effort in this vein. It will take some time to get it going but Sys-Con killing CFDJ finally gets that bit of unfinished business out of my life so I'm more motivated than ever to start this effort.

What else do I recommend you do? Boycott Sys-Con. Don't go to any of their web sites, and make the effort to get off their email subscription lists and the JDJ subscriber list. They're making money off you and you should refuse to be a party to this if you agree with my sentiment about the company. If you unsubscribe from an email list and they don't unsubscribe you, report them to the Federal Trade Commission in the US, or the appropriate entity in your country.

I personally am happy to see CFDJ finally go away. I tried to make a difference by being on the editorial board, but that didn't matter, so now I can focus on new and more productive endeavors. I'm dancing on CFDJ's grave quite frankly and think we should all do the same. If Adobe's smart they'll take whatever action they need to in order to ensure that Sys-Con cannot publish any Adobe-related journals, because Sys-Con has an anti-Midas touch in my opinion, tainting anything they touch.

Here are the posts related to the death of CFDJ for historical reference.

Look for more related to this in the not-too-distant future. As I said above we deserve far better in the ColdFusion community, and I hope to do my part to make that happen.


Great post Matt. I am still on board for the ides :)

A funny thought came to mind while reading this. Perhaps Adobe is secretly funding the Silverlight journal in order to make Silverlight look bad ;) I am kidding of course, but there is no worse representative for any technology than Sys-Con, so, all in all, this is a win for AIR.

Matt, thanks for this. It's good to know that the Apple was rotten to the core (editorial board not included).

The best irony is that with Sys-Con syndicating my blog (without permission) and claiming I'm a CFDJ author, my post about CFDJ being dead is front page on... CFDJ! It is also listed as the top "new blog entry" on pretty much every page. Lovely.

@Sean, I think THAT is the best part of the whole sorry saga. too funny!

I agree--good riddance.

Given the pace and trends of modern computing technology, I would not be surprised to see other magazines thrashing around like this in the future (and in fact, they are already).

It's time to ditch the magazine format altogether.

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