Everyone loves lists. Lists for the best books written in 1899 (right?), best products that work under water (summer time) and from the e-learning prospective – the best authoring tools.

Authoring tools are always changing – some for the better, others for the worst.

Therefore, new rankings are in order.

Here is how these new rankings will work throughout 2013:

  • Debut this month, update in July, final top 25 in Dec.
  • Vendors can move up, down or out of the rankings – after all it is on-going
  • First ranking are the top ten, July rankings are top 25, final rankings are the top 25
  • Listings can always be found on a new page called “rankings” which will appear in one month – thus eliminating the need to do a search (if applicable)
  • Rankings are based on my directories which are updated monthly; I also keep a separate directory which will contain more vendors than listed within the visible directories – reason being it offers clients (those who hire me – buyers to have an added bonus, of course it contains much more info); that said the monthly directories provide key info and in future updates have new columns added
  • There is never a quid pro quo, pay for play or whatever with my rankings. I’m not a lead gen for the vendors listed – rather the goal is to provide you with vendors that meet numerous criteria including UI, features, support/service, mobile, feedback from current and past clients and future game plans
  • 100% independent. No spin. You want that – there are plenty of places out there that offer it. You will never find it here

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Top Ten

I always prefer going from 10 to 1, it builds excitement.

#10: TechSmith Camtasia Studio – I’ve debated numerous times if a product that is more of a screen recorder with added feature sets deserves to be in an authoring tool set. However,with the added mobile piece, creation of professional videos, relay capability with various products including VLPs, it makes sense.

#9 iSpring Solutions- iSpring Suite - PowerPoint add on products are still a hot item in the space. This solution reminds me of Articulate Studio in terms of its capabilities, but at a lower cost. The new iSpring Pro 7 – currently in beta adds additional powerhouse features, including PPT to HTML5 output (which right now is a standalone product).

#8 Zenler Studio – Another PowerPoint driven product with some very cool feature sets including: eBook, screen recording, narration, simple to use, scenario builder (win!) and SCORM/AICC. While it support mobile, it cannot output to HTML5. Offers three versions.

#7 easygenerator- Proof that you do not need to be based in the states to have a very cool product. Features include adaptive learning, collaboration, scenario builder, SCORM, question pool/assessments and SaaS. They are reporting that in March 2013 you will be able to output to HTML5. IMO you want the fee based product. The freebie has limitations and frankly isn’t worth using.

#6 Brainshark - I have never been a fan of these guys in the past, but that has now changed. While their Slideshark app for the iPad is nifty, it is not the only product that showcases PPT and is free. That said, the enterprise version is really strong.

Features include: branching, assessment tool, convert slide notes to computer-generated audio via text-to-speech converter (11 voices/accents according to Brainshark), skinned, send links to access courses via social media, output to MP4, certificates and SCORM. Yeah it is another PPT spin product but does stand out.

#5 Epic – GoMo Authoring tool - Again an example of a cool product from outside of the states. This is really a product ideal for mobile which is quite intriguing. Features include: ability to view (offline) or via a native HTML web app, preview feature for iPad – ideal to verify that what you are publishing for mobile actually looks and works as it is intended, iPad, Android and Blackberry support (why?), SCORM and assessment tool.

#4 Courselab - Hey I am still a big fan of this product. It is ideal for instructional designers and e-learning developers, which is a rarity in today’s space. That said, the version I am talking about this time is the commercial one, although the free version will suffice for many folks.

Features on the commercial side include: 80 templates, VML/SVG vector objects, avatars – to a degree, object library, available in multiple languages including German, Russian, Arabic (very rare), Dutch, Japanese (rare), Spanish, French and English. Browser support includes Chrome, Opera (extremely rare) and Safari on the iPad. Oh it also supports IE, Safari on desktop/laptop and Firefox. Includes screen capture.

#3 ZebraZapps - I saw this product at TK13 and was totally blown away. The pro version is really geared towards instructional designers and e-learning developers. The app store is awesome and I wish more vendors would follow suit. As noted in my review of TK13, ZZ not only offers their own creations but also apps created by end users.

Rather than have a layout similar to Storyline (which reminds me a bit of Photoshop), this layout has something they call message centers with objects: including wires and nesting, which is hard to describe – so click to see an example). SaaS based, SCORM supported, layers and much more. The simple version could be used with someone who has limited tech skills, but I still believe that is ideal for instructional designers and developers.

#2 Articulate Storyline – I have to say that they are quite close to taking the number one spot, but they fall just a tad short. Why you may ask? Because they are having some slight issues – which I have heard from some end users and even from some Articulate folks at TK13. Also no offline/online synch unless via a LMS (which supports it).

Lastly this is still a work in progress product in the sense that they are still finding bugs and issues with the product, which while the fix with updates, it isn’t ideal for any authoring tool.

That said, this is still a really impressive product. For those who are wondering if they will ever offer a SaaS based version, I have been told it is under discussion and likely sometime down the road (not sure when that will be).

#1 dominKnow Claro - Still number one. Features include: SaaS, online/offline synch with their own tool, besides via a LMS that supports it, templates, multilingual (they report that the UI is available in 60 languages (beta right now) and the product itself supports nine languages), objects, branching, collaboration, HTML5 output (win!), people with zero to limited tech skills will find it easy to use, plus it offers enough ZOOM for instructional designers and e-learning developers.

Avatars, RLOs, media asset library, narration and web cam recording, screen recording and capturing, Tin Can API and I could go on and on.

Bonus Pick

I’m really intrigued by Go! Animate- which is not really an authoring tool but enables you to create scenarios with actors/avatars which can be lip synched with your voice. Plus each character (and they have a lot) can be fully customized right in the product. Output to MP4, so you can stick it into any authoring tool that supports it – as part of a course or standalone page. Mobile comes via MP4, but no Tin Can support. I walked away saying WOW.

Why isn’t?

  • Lectora on the list? Not a top ten IMO. Solid product but frankly there are a lot of products that beat it.
  • Rapid Intake – Hasn’t really done anything in the last several months. At one time very forward thinking, now run of the mill.
  • Studio 09 – Again solid product, clearly in top 25, but I’m waiting to test Studio 13 to see what it can do. Articulate has told me that they will be providing me a version prior to release, so a product review can be done.

Why not Captivate

  • Lags behind top tier products such as Claro, Storyline even Rapid Intake when it came to output to HTML5 and a few other features. For such a huge company as Adobe, the lack of forward thinking (first) is surprising.
  • It is #12 (why – see first bullet point). Sure it works for instructional designers and those who are new to the space as a whole, but my take is that they can’t decide what to be – either a pure instructional designer/developer product – which they are not, or a rapid content authoring tool with some ID feature sets (which they are)

Bottom Line

So the first set of rankings are in. Before you say – what about LMSs, video learning platforms, and other – don’t worry – they will be posted next week and follow the same formula for rankings (as listed above).

Fluidity is the name of the game and if anything stands out – products that were hot months ago, may no longer be now.

But it can all change in just a short while.

Just as these rankings could too.

Update: Have a chance to win a license to one of these authoring tools, plus a few others – Survey   You must complete the entire survey (3 questions) to enter.  The only vendors who did not provide a license from this list are: Techsmith,  Brainshark, Zenler, Epic. 

Other vendors who are offering a license: MadCap Suite (in the 11-20 rankings of Feb 2012), easyGenerator (11-20 rankings), Mzinga Publisher (11-20 rankings), Training Bricks (11-20 rankings), Cm-Group Luminosity (11-20 rankings), Go! Animate (Bonus Pick) and ProProfs. 

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