Easy come, easy go: Sprout “sunsets” its consumer widget service2010-02-18
By “sunset,” of course, Sprout means “kill.” For a startup, they’ve certainly learned the corporate art of doubletalk.
I’ve been raving about Sprout Builder since its debut. Before Sprout Builder, dynamic, multimedia widgets were a costly undertaking requiring programming expertise. Sprout Builder made it drop-dead easy for anybody to create one and deploy it. I got myself a free account and created two for my podcast, For Immediate Release. Fans of the show were able to copy the embed code and add the widget to their own sites where any visitor could click the “play” button and hear the latest episode. All I ever had to do was log in after posting each episode and update the link to the podcast MP3 file.
Creating the widget was a simple drag-and-drop exercise, thanks to the AJAX-enabled website. The process went like this:
- Create a box to contain the widget, setting the size I wanted.
- Upload the graphics I want to use, pretty much the same way you upload a video to YouTube.
- Drag the graphics into the box.
- Drag an audio player from among the various assets Sprout Builder provides into the box.
- Link the audio player to the online location of the podcast MP3 file.
- Copy the embed code and put it on the FIR site and my own blog so others can get the code for their own sites.
- (The service also let you create multiple tabs for a widget, link to video and do all manner of other very cool things.)
One version of the FIR widget was for websites. It’s a bit wider than the one I created specifically as an app for Facebook. I’ve also recommended the service to more than a few people and suggested to Dominic Jones that it would make it simple for companies to provide updated investor information.
I whined a bit when Sprout decided to start charging for the service, but opted to pay the lowest fee since these were the only two widgets I planned to create. (The fee ratchted up based on the number of widgets you wanted to maintain.) I felt I had little choice since the widgets already existed on other people’s sites.
I don’t have any idea how many people have added the widget to their sites, but I’ve seen it in at least a couple dozen places.
Then came word a few days ago that Sprout was abandoning—er, sunsetting—the service, opting to focus solely on its enterprise solution, which runs $2,999 per year. The email from Sprout CEO Carnet Williams begins:
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, we have made the hard decision to shut down the Sprout Builder subscription service to focus on our enterprise product lines.
So, on March 14, all those widgets fans and friends of FIR have put on their websites will vanish.
I said I was conflicted by Sprout’s move. On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to the fact that businesses need to make business decisions. And I certainly understand that the same outcome would have occurred had the company run out of money or if it had been acquired by another organization that wanted Sprout’s assets and talent, but not its service.
On the other hand, the company sought customers who built widgets that have been deployed to many other sites. All of us are left high and dry. Depending on what shows up where the widget is supposed to appear on those sites, we could all wind up being the target of some anger (or, at least, some eye rolling). More to the point, if I offer something like this in the future, who’s going to trust me? My credibility will suffer because Sprout didn’t keep its implicit promise to its customers.
Sprout also seems not to have opted for any actions to minimize the impact. They haven’t offerd to open-source the code for Sprout Builder. They haven’t pointed customers to an alternative. And if they tried to sell the service to somebody else, they haven’t said so.
I’ve tried finding a comparable service. Whoever staffs Widgetbox’s Twitter account provided half an answer to a question I posed, but never answered my follow-up question, even when I sent the query a second time.
Ultimately, then, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated by the situation, the inability to find an alternative, the requirement to put the word out to bloggers and site managers who are hosting the widget, and the fact that I’m aggravated even as I recognize Sprout’s right to manage its business.
Is my aggravation justified? And if you ran Sprout, how would you have handled a decision like this?