Now available on Google Code — the company’s site for hosting open source software — the new language is called Google Blockly, and it’s reminiscent of Scratch, a platform developed at MIT that seeks to turn even young children into programmers.
Like Scratch, Blockly lets you build applications by piecing together small graphical objects in much the same way you’d piece together Legos. Each visual object is also a code object — a variable or a counter or an “if-then” statement or the like — and as you piece them to together, you create simple functions. And as you piece the functions together, you create entire applications — say, a game where you guide a tiny figurine through a maze.
“Users can drag blocks together to build an application,” reads the description on Google’s site. “No typing required.”
Neil Fraser, one of the Googlers behind the project, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The project is part of a much larger effort to bring programming skills to, well, everyone. In the summer of 2010, Google announced a similar platform known as App Inventor, and this year, an outfit called Codecademy has made headlines as it seeks educate a whole new world of programmers over the web. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is among those using the service — or at least that’s what he says.
App Inventor was the brainchild of the MIT computer science and engineering professor Hal Abelson, who was on sabbatical at Google at the time. The platform was actually an outgrowth of Scratch, which Abelson had worked on at MIT. It was billed as a tool that would allow even the greenest of techies to build applications for the company’s Android mobile operating system, but its life at Google was short. When Abelson returned to MIT the following summer, he essentially took the platform with him.
At the University of California at Berkeley, researchers are offering their own port of Scratch, known as Snap.
It’s unclear how Blockly relates to Scratch or App Inventor. But with the Google name behind it, it had already sparked at least a temporary flurry of interest. at Hacker News — the online hangout for Silicon Valley developers — a post about the platform has received over 100 comments over the past day, and some include programs built with the platform.
So, Google Blocky is a little like a Pixar movie. It’s for kids. But it’s also for adults. And it had a nice sense of humor.