Out, damn Sprout

Out, damn Sprout

Sprout Inc has a cloud-based tool that can be used to build flash-based “rich internet applications.” A tie-up with Gigya marketing allows these thingamajigs to be shared and tracked over the web. It’s a neat tool and a neat idea. People looking for lost pets, entrepreneurs selling T-shirts, artists promoting their work, social orgs trying to raise funds, and anyone and everyone with a message and a menu built Sprouts all over the place. Best of all, it was free. Later on it became less free. In fact, Sprout Inc began to charge the early adopters about nineteen free dollars per month. I had been one of the early adopters. I didn’t mind the monthly bleeding because the tool delivered value. I built a sprout to promote the IIT-K workshop in 2009. Then I built one to promote my novel The Beast With Nine Billion Feet. It can still be seen on my home page. But not for long.

A few weeks back, Sprout Inc sent me a Dear John letter:

One of the toughest decisions that a start-up faces is where to focus its efforts and resources. Sprout Builder was our first product and has always been near and dear to our hearts. More importantly, we value the customers who have gotten us to where we are today. However…

However, kiss our ass. Or words to that effect. Sprout Inc. has decided, it seems, to “focus on our enterprise product lines.” Individual accounts would now cost $3,000 per year. Opt out and everybody who’d helped spread your sprout would see an empty space on their pages. Sprout Inc called this “sunsetting the SproutBuilder.” Early adopters, poor artists, orphaned children, lost pets etc. were all to be turned out into the dying light. Night had fallen, the orcs were on their way, and so sad, so sad. No one was sadder than Sprout Inc. I’ve never seen Gmail cry, and believe me, it’s an unnerving sight.

Sprout Inc.’s decision shows every sign of a Mr. Gekko behind the scenes. There is a Mr. Gekko behind the scenes of course. Several of them, no doubt. By now, the original founder is probably nothing more than a living floormat for the firm’s venture capitalists. VCs, unlike business people, are pragmatists. VCs typically don’t like tools; they like products. VCs typically don’t understand people, social media, long tails, the power of free and all that crap; they understand enterprises. And they definitely don’t care how a story began; they only care how it ends. Here they see it ending in an IPO and an interview with Maria Bartiromo.

Sprout Inc could have done the classy thing and kept the old accounts alive. It doesn’t cost much to store a few flash files per user. What it would gained in good will would have more than offset the few gigabytes of storage. I imagine people would have been happy as long as they didn’t lose the work they had already created. Well, fcuk you too, Sprout.

At first I worried. I was raised by UNIX. Our tribe prefers not to pay for software. There was no way I could square Mr. Gekko’ new prices with my conscience. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. RIA tools, like SproutBuilder, are fast becoming a commodity. And with the release of Adobe’s AIR platform last year, Sprout Inc can soon expect to have nothing more than first-mover’s advantage. Already, there are plenty of alternatives. There’s SlideRocket. The company seems to think it’s in the slide-making business and it too is cloud-based, but there’s a standalone version and the you don’t have to make slides. Sliderocket also allows you to export your work, something Sprout Inc deliberately decided not to let their clients do. There’s Adobe’s Flash Catalyst. It is expensive (~$700), but then again, it’s not $3,000/year. Nor is it cloud-based. There’s Wix, designed, as far as I can tell, for and by clowns. But such a company will never go IPO, so users are probably be safe for another year before the org runs through its venture capital. And finally, there’s SwishMax, a sort of poorer cousin to Adobe. It’s a standalone tool, the learning curve is not too steep (~1 week, a few eeks), and it’s a lot more powerful than SproutBuilder. It took me about a week to replicate my widget in SwishMax, and the results are, well, here:



Featured Image “Mr Burns” due to Martin Beyer’s wonderful 3d talents.