Conversant and the art of the press release

The other day I received an announcement , by email, about the release of a version of Conversant , Seth Dillingham's groupware system built in UserTalk and layered atop either Frontier or Radio.

I met Seth a few years ago, when he drove up from Connecticut to introduce himself to me. According to Seth, Conversant's development was much influenced by the ideas in my book, and in particular the synergies between NNTP- and Web-based groupware. I was, and am, flattered.

Seth and I talked again today. He had been wondering whether I saw his announcement, and what I thought about it. Turns out this was an object lesson in press-release writing. It began: "After three years in development, Macrobyte Resources is pleased to announce the release of Conversant 1.0b1." Several things conspired to diminish the effect this announcement should have had. First, the version number -- 1.0b1 -- failed to communicate that this was, in fact, the first release of a deployable Conversant. (Formerly, it had been a hosted service only, but I hadn't known that.) Second, there was no list of new features and benefits, which was confusing given the "years of development" that had gone into what seemed (to me) to be a new version of an existing product, rather than a newly-productized service.

It's hard to achieve an objective mindset when you are a developer writing your own press release. I completely understand how and why this kind of glitch can happen. Maybe this glimpse of how things look when seen through the eyes of a longtime trade-rag hack will be helpful to others.

Conversant, by the way, is interesting in ways that are orthogonal to Radio. It's a server-based product, not a desktop product, and is useful for all the reasons that any featureful and scriptable groupware-and-document-management system is. So now that I've got the story straight...congratulations, Seth!

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