On Popfly and What’s Next

A couple of years ago, a group of us decided to try something different: to create an online service to help people learn to program. Along the way we learned a lot about operating a large-scale web service, about the interesting legal and privacy situations that come into play when you’re running a service that talks to other services, about technologies like JSON and AJAX and Silverlight, about the frustrations of targeting multiple browsers, and about how to have a great time.

As you’ve probably read by now, we’ve made the call to shut Popfly down on August 24.

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about passionate response and kind words we got from our users when we announced we were shutting down the beta. I’ve tried to reply individually to everyone who wrote asking questions or saying how sorry they were and am sorry if I missed anyone.

Some of the most common questions were:

  • Why are you shutting Popfly down? The economic situation today isn’t anything like what it was when we started Popfly. You’ve probably read about Microsoft’s layoffs and how every business group has been asked to pare back and focus. Popfly, though it was interesting, entertaining, and different, was hard to justify even for me (one of the people to started it) to management at a time when we were freezing salaries and laying people off.
  • Can’t you open source Popfly? We’d love to, and spent many weeks looking at what it would take to do it. But  the source code to Popfly is pretty heavily enmeshed with Microsoft-internal services and source code that we cannot open source. If we figure out a way to release some elements of the source, we will, but no guarantees.
  • Can’t I save my game/mashup and run it myself? The way games and mashups work, they need a lot of the Popfly services to be running for them to load. For example, mashups call into the Popfly service to request all their data (Popfly is basically a proxy server for them), and games require our game engine to be running. For games, Ben and Adam did come up with a tool that will help you run games offline, but you don't get the game creator itself.
  • So are you guys out of jobs? What are you doing? Everyone on the Popfly team found a new position in Microsoft. A bunch of us stayed together to take our learnings from building Popfly to work on the next generation JavaScript engine and tools and you’ll be hearing more about that as we can talk about it.