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Microsoft has recently introduced Popfly, a “fun, easy way to build and share mashups, gadgets, Web pages, and applications”. While it looks like it may be interesting (I don’t have a Passport login, so I couldn’t test-drive any of it), the most humorous part of the website is the laughable About Us section.

Lofty Goals

We believe that if you can send an email, you should be able to build and personalize your own website, mashup, social networking site, or blog.

This certainly isn’t a rare thing to see nowadays. It still bothers me, though. To bring up the oft-used building architecture analogy, this looks a bit more ridiculous:

We believe that if you can climb stairs, you should be able to build and personalize your own house, apartment, office, or auditorium.

The original quotation would be much more accurate with a few revisions:

We believe that if you can send an email, you should be able to use and personalize a blogging tool, social networking site, or dashboard-widget service that software developers built.

There, much better! I think there is this huge fallacy about making programming obseleted by arbitrary design. That’ll never happen. What we are seeing more of is that domain-specific Turing-incomplete tools are becoming easier and easier to use. There’s always programmers behind those tools, and extending those tools, but there’s definitely a clear separation between them and the users—digital content creators / artists.

Managers Everywhere!

The caption for the bottom picture states:

From left to right: John Montgomery (Group Program Manager), Andy Sterland (Program Manager), Alpesh Gaglani (Developer), Tim Rice (Developer), Suzanne Hansen (Program Manager), Steven Wilssens (Program Manager), Vinay Deo (Engineering Manager), Michael Leonard (Test Developer), Jianchun Xu (Developer), Dan Fernandez (Product Manager), Adam Nathan (Developer), Wes Hutchins (Program Manager), Aaron Brethorst (Program Manager), Paramesh Vaidyanathan (Product Unit Manager), and Murali Potluri (Developer).

So what’s the breakdown of their team?

  • 5 developers
  • 1 test developer
  • 5 program managers
  • 1 group program manager (What is that? Something like a super-program-manager?)
  • 1 engineering manager
  • 1 product manager
  • 1 product unit manager

If it were a real startup, I think this would be quite a bit more realistic:

  • 2 business/legal/financial (the pair of guys that make sure VC money is rolling in and provides safe harbor for the programmers)
  • 1 marketer
  • 2 designers
  • 3 front-end developers (Javascript, ASP)
  • 1 back-end developer/sysadmin
  • 1 champion developer/team lead (the guy who is both an application visionary and a technical expert)

Disingenuity

This is the best part. The images and text on this page are reminiscent of a 40-year-old trying to blend in with his teenage daughter’s friends:


If this doesn’t look like corporate coercion, I don’t know what does. You know, where your boss comes around and says “Hey! Let’s take a fun picture, so everyone can see how cool we are, and how much you all enjoy working under my hip management style!” and the only reason people follow is because their jobs depend on it.


Ok, not as ridiculously out-of-character, but everyone still looks forced (“cross your arms! everybody do it!”).


This one looks the most realistic. Notice the token Startup Guy and Girl Programmer hidden among a flock of token Fortune 500 Boring Guys, like a game of Where’s Waldo.

How about all of the self-praise?

Like most startup ventures, the team hustles for resources every day and is innovative, scrappy, and fun. Oh, and we also dream big.

Is this serious? Fun? Scrappy? Dreaming big? Most kids who feel they have to announce that they are cool to others aren’t. I never got friends by telling people how cool I was; I got friends by sharing interests and hobbies. For some contrast, this is from the smallish company Business Logic’s website:

We enjoy flexible work hours, late night brainstorming, refactoring, halo, open source, robot chicken and Leeroy Jenkins. We like to build great software and find a better way to do it every day. We want to grow and share the experience.

Now that sounds real. No one is tooting their own horn, and I can judge for myself whether or not the group is “fun”.

Score

I’d give them a 8/10 for humor (the “Army of Darkness” style of humor). I’d score them higher, except the website looked too realistic, so some people might not understand the joke of a Microsoft Startup.

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