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Thoughts on the acquisition of ScoutBook.com by BSA 2015-05-04

A few weeks ago BSA announced the acquisition of ScoutBook.com, a web site that purports to be “Next Generation Scout Unit Advancement Software”. Many TroopTrack customers have asked how this affects TroopTrack, what the differences are between ScoutBook and TroopTrack, and other questions. We discussed this as a team and felt it would be a good idea to address these issues publicly for everyone at once. So here are our thoughts about the acquisition as of May 3, 2015.

Competition in the Scouting Software Industry is Good for Scouters

First of all, we believe that competition in the scout unit management software industry is good for scouters. Without competition, software companies simply don’t try as hard, and when the companies that make software for scouters don’t try, the products languish and scouting suffers. We’ve learned a lot from our competition and we intend to continue to push scouting software forward just like we have since 2008.

The acquisition of ScoutBook by the BSA is game changing and is obviously a major advantage to ScoutBook

The Boy Scouts of America acquired ScoutBook. Among other things, that’s a huge endorsement and is a major marketing advantage for ScoutBook. At TroopTrack, we aren’t going to bury our heads in the sand about that. This is going to be a big boost for ScoutBook, even more than the ScoutNET Certification Program was a big boost for TroopMaster.

That said, being acquired by the BSA doesn’t mean ScoutBook is the best. It also doesn’t ensure ScoutBook will be around in five years. It merely means that BSA owns it, and the simple fact of the matter is that BSA hasn’t exactly been the best steward of its software products over the last 30 years. Only time will tell if BSA will do a better job with ScoutBook than it has done with other software projects in the past. We are skeptical of BSA’s capability to build and support a modern software platform.

We’re Discouraged, Determined, and Financially Strong

I don’t think there is any point hiding the fact that we are discouraged by BSA’s decision to acquire ScoutBook. It will definitely hurt our growth in the short term. We are already seeing some customers leave TroopTrack for ScoutBook, and that obviously makes us sad.

We are determined to persevere. Every setback is an opportunity to improve. We are going to continue to do what we have always done - make TroopTrack better every day. We are learning from this experience and have already started making adjustments. There are two very important strategies behind ScoutBook’s popularity:

ScoutBook is optimized for small mobile devices. ScoutBook is easy to use on an iPhone or similarly sized mobile device, and that has proven to be very popular.

ScoutBook integrated BSA proprietary art throughout their marketing materials and their product, which made ScoutBook appear to have an endorsement from BSA long before the acquisition was announced.* 

We have learned from these strategies. We will definitely continue our efforts to make TroopTrack easy to use on a mobile device, and we will continue to update our user interface to make it more familiar to scouters while respecting the BSA’s copyright and licensing guidelines as we understand them.

TroopTrack is financially secure. We have been profitable for many, many years and are positioned well to endure any short term setbacks the acquisition of ScoutBook could cause for us. 

We are Scouters Too

BSA’s announcement about the acquisition of ScoutBook touts the fact that Shawn Jackson, ScoutBook’s creator, is a unit leader. This irritates me, and maybe I’m being prickly, but there’s nothing unique about that. Every software company in this industry is led by a scouter, as far as I can tell. 

So here’s our scouting pedigree. Of our seven employees:

The point is, we are Scouters too. We’re committed to Scouting and actively involved in Scouting.

 

ScoutBook is optimized for small mobile devices, not monitors.

I’ve spent a good deal of time playing with ScoutBook on my iPhone lately, trying to understand it’s appeal beyond the extremely persuasive marketing it has done. The fact of the matter is that ScoutBook is pretty easy to use on a small mobile device. That is undeniable - it’s what ScoutBook is optimized for. 

I have also spent some time playing with it on my laptop and my 27 inch monitor. I know that having a screen that big is a bit nerdy, but I was curious about what sort of approach ScoutBook had taken to make their product adapt to different sized screens. The results surprised me. ScoutBook doesn’t adapt to the size of your screen at all. It merely gets wider. I’ve included a screen shot of the mobile version of a user profile accompanied by the same page viewed on my laptop. 

This may not matter to most people, but it would matter to me. TroopTrack uses a different approach that we believe is better. We optimize your experience based on the size of your device. That means that we adjust your experience on a small device to make it easy to use without sacrificing the way it works on a larger screen. I’ve attached comparison screenshots below to illustrate this difference.

We are committed to making TroopTrack just as easy to use on a mobile device as ScoutBook. We started releasing improvements to our mobile interface a few months ago and we will continue this effort relentlessly, but we won’t do it in a way that ruins the experience of a person using a larger device.

ScoutBook allows unencrypted traffic. TroopTrack forces all traffic to be encrypted.

This may sound like nerd talk, and if you get nothing else from my article, I beg you to at least take away this one point: As of May 3, 2015, ScoutBook allows your data to be transmitted across the internet unencrypted. This means that unless you are very careful about how you use ScoutBook any information submitted to them can be easily read as it crosses the internet to and from ScoutBook’s servers. This includes your user name and password, as well as information about your scouts, where they live and when they were born.

You can test this yourself. Just go to ScoutBook.com and look at the url. It will have a little lock beside it. Now take the “s” out of https in the url (this removes the encryption). The lock goes away. That’s because ScoutBook accepts unencrypted traffic. Now try the same thing on your bank’s web site, or on TroopTrack.com. If you try to send unencrypted traffic to those sites, the site doesn’t allow you to turn off the encryption. When sensitive data is involved, accepting unencrypted traffic is reckless, irresponsible and downright stupid. I feel no compunction in having such a strong opinion here and I will not apologize for calling it stupid. This is 2015 and there is absolutely no excuse for having such a major security flaw. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: A couple of months after this post was originally published, ScoutBook
  fixed this very serious problem.

TroopTrack is more than “Unit Advancement Software”

TroopTrack does much, much more than ScoutBook. It’s not just for tracking advancement. There are many features in TroopTrack that ScoutBook simply doesn’t have, at least not yet. Here’s a list of TroopTrack features that ScoutBook doesn’t have as of May 3, 2015. It’s not meant to be exhaustive and it’s possible I’ve forgotten a few. The intent is to merely illustrate the point that there is a significant feature gap between the two products.

TroopTrack is a much more comprehensive solution than ScoutBook. Whether that means TroopTrack is better than ScoutBook for your unit is something you have to decide, but we are committed to doing whatever we need to do not only do more than ScoutBook, but to also do it better.

We are going to do what needs to be done to remain competitive

The big question about the acquisition of ScoutBook for TroopTrack has been how we will respond. So I’m going to put it simply: we are going to continue pushing forward. We aren’t giving up or going away. We are going to learn from the things that are good about ScoutBook and ignore the things that aren’t. We are as committed as ever to building the best Unit Management Software on the Planet.

* A brief aside about #2: It’s unclear whether ScoutBook had permission to use BSA’s copyrighted imagery on their website when prior to being acquired by BSA. We suspect they did not, since the footer of ScoutBook.com originally said they had no relationship with the BSA. Typically it would have said something like “Images used with permission of Boy Scouts of America” if they had obtained formal approval to use the artwork. This is totally speculation on my part, but I wonder if ScoutBook’s flagrant violation of BSA copyrights somehow led to BSA’s acquisition of the software.

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