Vox Stops: Six Apart?

Six Apart launched Vox in 2006. I don’t think it ever lived up to 6A’s hopes for it to be “home, home, on the web” for a great many. I said so around Vox’s first anniversary. Anil Dash, who was 6A’s chief evangelist at the time, left a Vox-defending comment. At the time I felt that his comment seemed to arise out of duty, rather than out of the passion he often conveyed for 6A’s other offerings.

Now Vox is headed to what TechCrunch call the deadpool. I prefer the term amputation ward, since Vox is a limb, and 6A still has other limbs. That said, 6A went out on a limb in terms of the resources invested in Vox.

I hope that use of the term deadpool won’t soon be appropriate for 6A. It seems rather ominous that, of the social media blogs I subscribe to, only TechCrunch considered the amputation of Vox worth a post in itself. Mashable gave it a mention toward the bottom of a roundup post.

ReadWriteWeb, which used to run on 6A’s Movable Type (but now runs on WordPress) didn’t even mention the silencing of the Vox (or mentioned it so quietly that I didn’t hear). Anil, who left 6A a while ago, didn’t post about it either.

Even though I won’t miss Vox, I find its closing sad.

Widgets and the Web’s Amputation Ward

TechCrunch has a thing,or a place, called the Deadpool. It’s where social media companies go when they shut down. A look at TechCrunch posts tagged deadpool shows two arrivals so far this year: EventVue, and Yahoo’s Shopping API.

I’d say that these two closings are rather different things. Although each sees the end of a web service, only one sees the end of a company. EventVue is no more, while Yahoo lives on to… well, probably to close more services, among other things.

Yahoo shutting down an API is more like an amputation than a death. Amputations may be gruesome, but the patient is still alive, and may be in better health after the operation.

I want to focus on a couple of recent amputations, each at and by a different widget company. One of the companies is Sprout, which I seem to be moved to cover around this time every year. Two years ago, widgets were hot, and Sprout particularly hot and fresh, drawing quotes such as “SproutBuilder is going to explode the world of widgets on the web.”

Sprout Builder was launched as a freemium service. A year later, in January 2009, the free part (almost) went away. Now the Sprout Builder subscription service is now more. This was pointed out in a comment on this blog by Sumit Chachra (who I find to be the CTO of Tivix, a social media platform for nonprofits).

Sprout Builder is an example of the Amputation Ward, rather than to the Deadpool, because Sprout the Company still exists. What is Sprout now? Its home page answers that question as follows. “Sprout technology allows brands to engage their audiences across the social graph.” I won’t dig into what that actually means – at least not right now.

The current post is more about the amputation of Sprout Builder. Sprout’s blog post, which was published yesterday (i.e. on a US holiday), refers to a “service transition.”

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. The only service level that we will continue to offer for Sprout Builder is geared towards enterprise customers. The cost is $2999 a year.

There hasn’t been a lot of coverage of the amputation yet. But a post by Heather Gardner-Madras has already drawn a few comments, all to say the least disappointed with the impending disappearance of sprouts by subscription.

Clearspring is the other service-amputating widget company. Clearspring blogged the news under the title: AddThis, our universal sharing platform. The first half of the post is indeed about AddThis, which Clearspring acquired in 2008. Then:

As AddThis now supports widget sharing, today we’re also announcing our plans to deprecate our original Clearspring Launchpad platform in April of 2010. After that point, the original Launchpad widget-sharing platform will no longer be available and AddThis will be our one sharing platform. Widgets will continue to run until the beginning of 2011. All the while, we will continue to improve the ability of AddThis to share embeddable content…

For long-time Launchpad users, we realize that there are some steps required to transition… We’ve put together comprehensive documentation to help you move from Launchpad to AddThis. We’ve also setup an area on our forum.

Some of the reaction to the deprecation/amputation is on the forum. I won’t link there, since it requires login. A post at Widgetmatic states that those using the Launchpad platform have some transition work, or some broken web pages, ahead of them.

Let’s take a look at some of the differences and similarities between these two amputations. The obvious similarity is that each involves a company that used to be in the widget business, and now downplays the term widget. Sprout seems to have purged the very term from its system. Clearspring is amputating its “widget platform” to focus on its “sharing platform.” I’d say that the idea of a widget, in the sense of a chunk of code that can be embedded on web sites, is alive and well, but that the term has fallen from favor.

The main difference between the amputations relates to market segments. Sprout is cutting off its smaller customers, in order to concentrate on enterprise clients. Clearspring seems to want to keep its customers, and to transition them to its favored platform.

Some Clearspring users will indeed transition to AddThis. Some will transition to a platform offered by a different provider, perhaps reasoning that Clearspring has pulled one platform from under them and might pull another. Yet other Clearspring users will simply let their widgets die on deprecation day.

I come into the last of these groups. I got very excited when I found that it was possible to use Clearspring widgets at WordPress.com, an environment hostile to many widgets. I’m inclined to be relieved that my excitement died down, and that I didn’t get heavily into developing Clearspring widgets for others to use at WordPress.com.

So that was a first visit to the web’s amputation ward. I hope that it wasn’t too gruesome. I also hope that it illustrates the difference between the amputation ward and the deadpool.