Glitch, the online, multiplayer gaming world created by Tiny Speck, is closing down December 9 after failing to get enough user traction, and then failing to find a buyer for the product. Right now Tiny Speck’s founder, Stewart Butterfield, is working at finding new jobs for the 30 or so people who are getting laid off as a result, and winding down the project, including the forums and issuing refunds for players still in credit. But! Butterfield, who you may best know as one of the co-founders of that hugely popular, early-mover online photo storage/sharing service Flickr (sold to Yahoo for a song — $35 million — in 2005), is also cooking something else up.
To be clear: Tiny Speck is not closing, just Glitch. There will be more to say about that in the future, but: you will know it well. Well.— Stewart Butterfield (@stewart) November 15, 2012
It’s a cryptic note from a guy who is somewhat famous for his odd riddle-talk. (See: Butterfield’s Yahoo resignation letter to Brad Garlinghouse, in which he takes the role of a tinsmith in the face of the Industrial Revolution, and never drops character through the whole letter.)
Going back to the tweet, could this be a hint that Butterfield and Tiny Speck are planning to delve back into the world of photo sharing? This is, after all, how we know Butterfield best — “well.” And given how central photos have become to the evolution of mobile and the web in the years since Flickr was founded, all of us, in a sense, “know it well.”
With services like Instagram selling to Facebook for hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s a testament to how popular and important imaging services are today. Also with the departure from Yahoo, you have to wonder if Butterfield felt that he had some more work to do in photos (that resignation letter seems to imply some kind of lost opportunity).
In the Glitch closure announcement, Butterfield also writes about how Tiny Speck is working on future products.
Whether or not the next venture is based around imaging services, it looks like it will have a social element: “We have developed some unique messaging technology with applications outside of the gaming world and a smaller core team will be working to develop new products,” he writes.
As a side-note, TechCrunch had actually had an anonymous tip about Glitch being in trouble at the beginning of October — so maybe this news was not as abrupt as Business Insider seems to imply. Even as far back as August, we’d also been told — again, through our anonymous tip service — that Glitch people were spotted over at Google. When I asked Butterfield outright if this was a sign of a partnership or sale, his response was: “I can honestly tell you I know nothing about it, so I think your tipster was wrong in this case :).” Make of that what you will.
These details may all turn out to be another glitch — no, not a game that fails, but just the hustling that you see time and again among entrepreneurs as they continue to scratch that itch that drives them time and again to make new projects — but when you are dealing with a tinsmith who has had his Carnegie spells now and then, you never know.