Interview: Microsoft Popfly Product Manager Dan Fernandez

Microsoft Popfly, a new service powered by Microsoft's Silverlight that aims to allow non-programmers to create their very own web content, is currently in the alpha stage and is only allowing new users to test drive it if they are invited. I called up Dan Fernandez, a Microsoft Popfly Product Manager, to ask the questions many of us have been asking since the service was launched. He was only too happy to put up with my antics for a good half hour. Here's what he had to say,

When would you say Popfly development first began?

Just a little over a year ago. Real development began about 6 months ago.

As Product Manager, what would you say has been your greatest achievement with Popfly so far?
Just getting it out the door. That it's working. That the response has been phenomenal. People who are not coders getting wowed. They are happy they can finally create something without knowing anything about programming.

I count 18 people on "the team", is that really everyone?
That is everyone. There is also contingent staff that helps out but what you see on the site is really everyone. It should be noted that our team is also behind Visual Studio Express, which actually contains 4 products in 9 languages, so we're overseeing a total of 36 products.

The name Popfly was a suggestion. Is it the final name? Is it related to what's being done or is it simply a likeable name by the team?
Yes, it is the final name. It means just as much as the word "Xbox" does, so nothing really.

Why did you choose to use the ".ms" domain?
The only reason we went with the ".ms" domain was because of time. We acquired the ".com" domain fairly late and there were DNS issues. However, the ".com" domain will still redirect to the website just fine. We will be using the ".com" domain in the final release.

Why use the word "mashup" and not just "gadget"?
Popfly is a way to create applications so even the word "mashup" isn't the best word to use. A gadget can be a game of Solitaire or Minesweeper but neither connects different sources. The word "mashup" is pretty well known for using different data sources and collecting them together. Of course, that doesn't mean that Popfly can't make projects that do not use different data sources.

The duck logo scares some people. Is it here to stay?
The duck is actually a mascot, not a logo, that represents self expression. The duck is more of an analogy or metaphor for designing and being able to create your own thing. For example, at Maker Faire last week we had a duck design booth where those interested created over 500 duck designs, all of them unique in their own way. At the same time, the duck is an icon for the fact that Popfly is a user-created site. We chose not to use typical corporate stock photography; the picture is actually from one of our favourite artists on iStockphoto. We purchased the rights to the picture and linked to the artist as well.

Is Popfly an experimental service or will there be a final launch of the service?
We do plan a final launch, although we have not yet set the final release date. Popfly is still in the alpha stage, and it will be launched when our customers tell us it is ready. So, the way we develop and the way we take feedback is very user-centric.

Being in alpha, what would you say is here to stay and what isn't?
Everything can still change. It all comes down to feedback and the key features our customers want. Popfly will be significantly different when it goes RTM.

"You can't rename projects". I trust this is an alpha-only "feature" and not some kind of limitation?
Pretty much alpha-only. If people ask for it, we'll add it in. Right now we want to show off the concept more as opposed to utility features.

Are updates to the Popfly technology being done on the fly or should we be on the lookout for version numbers?
It's kind of both. For example, if we have a bad performance bug we'd patch it right away. But we really want to get into a schedule with releases.

Would you go as far as saying Popfly is Microsoft's dive into a non-profit and possibly even open-source community?
The problem is labelling such a service. Open-source is a very overloaded term. When browsing the web you can view source on websites, can you not? If Microsoft were to say Popfly was open-source, the uproar would be deafening. Instead of labelling it, let's just say it's about giving the users what they want.

Why is the storage limit a mere 25MB? Will this improve? I know many people rarely use the full space given to them with their Windows Live Hotmail account, maybe that space be "shared" with Popfly?
We can certainly increase the 25MB, it just comes down to what the users need. Yes, we could potentially take it from other sources. Frankly, the number is kind of arbitrary.

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