Recently Mindjet announced the upcoming release of their latest MindManager Version, MindManager Pro 7. MindManager has been utilizing beta testers for the last several months. I queried the MindManager Group at Yahoo! to ask how many people from this group had participated in the beta program.
Several of the responses from members indicated that they had agreed to an NDA with Mindjet that they understood would prevent them from confirming or denying their participation in the beta program. At first I took that for what it was and recognized that these members did not want to harm Mindjet nor breach the NDA. That is very positive and speaks to the loyalty of MindManager users to Mindjet, a loyalty that I share I might add.

I then considered that Mindjet is working very hard, now, to generate buzz about their new version and simultaneously push sales for the Month of May on their old version. People that buy now will get an upgrade to the new version when its available at the end of May.

***Please note I am a MindManager reseller, but I do not advise that you buy it from me. You can get better buys elsewhere on the internet. The channel pricing structure in place does not allow me to be competitive in my pricing of MindManager products any longer. I am considering the removal of these products from my own business, but have not done that yet.

Beta Testing Confidentiality Vs. Rollout Promotion of New Product

It would seem that Mindjet has come to be in a position where their loyal beta testers are attempting to protect the company based on an NDA that Mindjet required. These same beta testers would normally be the promoters and evangelists and word of mouth front line for the product. However, they now have the perception that they are legally compelled not to discuss the new product! That could be great from an information control perspective but its definitely not good from a marketing perspective.

So I re-read the NDA and it does not prevent participants from stating that they were involved in the Beta testing. It does prevent people from sharing their experiences or knowledge gained from the beta participation.

As the MM7 release was built for the Office 2007 standard (essentially a beta itself), I would think that Mindjet would want to utilize as many beta testers as possible and especially those from the Yahoo! MindManager Group community that is one of the largest mindmapping communities open to the public. As Mindjet has essentially a beta(MM7) to work with a beta(Office 2007) on an existing OS and on a beta OS (Vista), it would seem that they could use all the beta testing help they could get. This prompted my initial question to the group.

Therefore, as I read everyone’s responses regarding the NDA, it struck me that Mindjet’s beta testing for MM7 and the perceptions that beta testers were not allowed to discuss MM7 may have had a chilling effect on the Yahoo MindManager forum over the last few months. If forum members engage in a project that does not allow them to discuss the topic of the forum, that seems to harm the community a bit. As this community involves the sharing of best practices and many other nuances of mindmapping and MindManager in particular, it strikes me that this same movement has probably harmed Mindjet as well. Essentially, Mindjet’s beta program has served to halt conversation about Mindjet products as it relates to knew innovations and possibly new best practices.

Transparency vs Secrecy in Business

Now, anyone that reads my blog probably is aware that I do not subscribe to the Apple theory of doing business in an information void contained by complete and total secrecy. I think that business is best served when people and stakeholders operate transparently and communicate.

In fact, this is one of the great benefits of mindmapping. It helps people to share information transparently faster, easier, more efficiently and with less obfuscation by data or lists of facts. So it strikes me, that our group has essentially been silenced a bit by the company we all evangelize and promote at a time when they need us to talk about their product and share more information with each other and with new potential users.

Please understand I am not trying to be critical of any members in the Yahoo! MindManager group. I can definitely understand the perception around the NDA, but I did want to remark on the unintended consequences of the beta program. There are some very good reasons why a beta program might be covered under an NDA, some of which have been mentioned in recent replies such as

  • Helping to set user expectations for the actual product to be rolled out as opposed to options tested and held back
  • Not airing complaints about bugs identified during testing that may have not been fixed in the beta testers desired way in the final version
  • Not sharing information that might be used or stolen by competitors

These are all important items to manage during a beta program. However, these items should not not take place in a way that

  • Silences product evangelists from discussing the product
  • Stops or hinders product buzz and word of mouth promotion
  • Prevents collaborative discussion of the beta such that users can share insights into the product providing Mindjet with a better understanding of the scope of an issue or opportunity
  • Creates an artificially created information void at the time the product is launched or announced by silencing beta users from sharing their experience (As an example consider how compelling some ‘behind the scenes’ features are for some movies, and how these are used to market a movie product and get people to buy or watch a movie.)

At a minimum it would seem that Mindjet needs to find a middle ground on this issue either now or in the future. If they must operate in secrecy behind an NDA, then they need to balance that with the ability to allow their beta testers to transform from a free testing resource over to a free marketing and word of mouth evangelism resource. They could attempt to prevent product evangelists from participating in the beta program, but that would remove some of the most experienced MindManager gurus from providing help and guidance in developing a better product. They need the beta testing help of this community, but they also need the voice of the community.

I’d suggest that they would even benefit from the perceived behind the scenes look about the development of the product. Mindjet was founded by Mike and Betina Jetter. Together, they provided an extremely compelling story about the early development of MindManager 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 in a book that featured Mike’s battle against cancer. That behind the scenes connection to the creators and the creative process is extremely compelling. If Mindjet were to open up their beta testing program and allow beta testers to share their beta testing stories after Mindjet announces the eminent launch of the product, Mindjet could benefit from the experiences and voice of their beta testers. Essentially, they benefit from free testing services provided by beta testers and this free beta testing experience then becomes feature rich content to help communicate the journey of MindManager from version 6.0 to 7.0.

Its notable that mindmaps help people see the connections and relationships between one topic and another. If Mindjet were to show the developmental relationship from 6.0 to 7.0 via their own developers and their network of beta testers, they would essentially benefit that much more. They would help potential buyers make the connection between 6.0 and 7.0 and that information could make the difference in a purchase decision or in the speed of a purchase decision!