The Age of the Platform: Summary and Review
The Age of the Platform: Summary and Review
Keywords: Amazon, API, Apple, Change, Design, Facebook, Google, Internet, Plank, Platform
Please Note: There are links to other reviews, summaries and resources at the end of this post.
Platforms are generally beneficial for companies. Because they harness social forces such as network effects, they can have an amplifying effect on profits. They do have their downsides, however. Because of their tendency to magnify public opinion, scandals and controversies have the potential to grow to greater scales.
The Age of the Platform explores lessons of the platform business model. Despite some issues with format and layout, Simon captures some important lessons of platform development and explains why they are relevant to the small business owner. Beginning with an overview of the histories of the internet and of platforms, Simon moves on to explore in turn Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, described variously as “The Gang of Four” and “The Big Four.” After considering each of these companies individually, the book examines the qualities that they have in common, especially those that have contributed to their growth. This includes factors such as network effects, virality, stickiness and strong central leadership.
The discussion on platforms that were emerging at the time the book was written (2013) is sure to grab attention, if only to demonstrate how quickly things change in this industry. And, appropriately for its subject, the book ends with a look to the future of platforms and of information technology in general. Simon admits that some of the current theories about this future sound far-fetched. In this context, he mentions Ray Kurzweil’s theory of singularity: the idea that human and machine intelligence will merge into a single global consciousness. There has been so much change in recent times, however, that no one could have believed possible, so it would be foolish to reject such theories outright. We live in a time when any future seems possible.
The book presents a good introduction to the history of the internet and of the Big Four. Business managers, entrepreneurs and platform designers will need information and more detailed advice, however. While this would make a good addition to their bookshelf, it should not be the only book to be found there on the subject.
Part I: the Rise of the Platform Age
Chapter 1: The Internet: Where Are We Now?
The book begins with a high level history of the internet. In 1993, the first web browser was released. Originally known as Mosaic, it was renamed Netscape. The internet grew in popularity as people began emailing each other, browsing the net and creating their own pages.
Many businesses sprang up to take advantage of the new technology. By the late 90s, there was a wide range of goods and services being offered for sale. Google came along and improved the entire experience by making it much easier for people to find the things they were looking for.
There were plenty of failures among these early companies. This isn’t uncommon with new technologies. Everyone jumps on the new bandwagon but not everyone completely understands the new dynamic.
The new millennium heralded the rise of a new type of web service. This is Web 2.0. It’s all about users; an important facet of Web 2.0 is the rise of social media websites. Instead of being the occasional source of entertainment or a place to check email, the internet has become integrated with people’s lives. People’s personal finance and social interactions, to name but two domains, have been transformed. Instead of using the internet occasionally, people essentially live their lives online. Our world has been transformed by the ability to communicate quickly to the entire world. Citizen journalists have been able to bring global awareness to a host of social and political issues. People can work together on projects regardless of where they might live.
The location for interacting with technology has shifted. Back in the day, folks mostly used sophisticated technology when they were at work. That’s all changed. Nowadays people are as likely to turn on a computer and hop on the internet at home as at work. In fact, the line between home and work is increasingly blurred as more people work from home. This has brought about the rise of the prosumer. Prosumers are platform users, actors who are both producers and consumers.
A freemium is something that’s given away for free in the hopes of creating a customer. Typically, a site will provide basic services for free and require some form of paid subscription for access to enhanced features. It’s a risky strategy. Companies might waste too many resources on free users who will never convert to subscribers.
The information technology revolution has its share of negative externalities. Industries have been disrupted and many companies forced out of business. American companies no longer enjoy local advantages and must now compete against companies from other countries that might have cheaper labor or less regulation. No business is safe from these changing market forces. Technology has lowered barriers to entry, making it easier and cheaper for new businesses to start up, meaning many businesses are now competing with one another all over the world. This might be great for new startups in Zambia, but it also means erosion of traditional businesses. Everything is undergoing realignment, which is good for some, but bad for others.
The world is changing so fast that “planning” is no longer an effective strategy. By the time a plan comes to fruition, circumstances have likely changed so much as to make the plan obsolete. Nowadays all businesses operate under a huge cloud of uncertainty. And so, my friends, this is the world we live in. Privacy and security are big concerns, at least as long as such concepts continue to exist. We are always connected to the technology grid. Our lives and our businesses have changed dramatically in the space of a decade.
Chapter 2: Platforms: Definitions, History, and Economics
The internet changed everything. We work online. We socialize online. We take care of errands; we entertain ourselves online. It’s not at all unusual for people to spend most of their time on the internet. It’s important that we have stability and security in all of these activities. Platforms can help us achieve this stability and security.
A platform is an ecosystem that scales easily and encompasses features, users and partners. Platforms allow people to contact each other and exchange information. They make third party collaboration much easier. The platform is a business model. Even large companies can be platforms. In a beneficent (as opposed to vicious) circle, platforms generate network effects which make the platforms more popular, which generate more network effects. Platforms are built piecemeal. Each component of a platform is called a plank. Platforms have been around forever, but computers give them new power. Now they are turbo-charged.
Monopolies don’t socially optimize resources. Monopolies create barriers to entry, effectively preventing meaningful competition. There’s the controversial notion of natural monopolies, when barriers to entry are so high that really only one company can succeed. AT&T is an example; back in the day they were pretty much the only phone company. They had a complete monopoly. Some people say this is just a natural result of market circumstances, so it’s cool. Others say the whole idea is in error.
Monopolies are the result of horizontal or vertical integration. Some of them have control of the production process, which is vertical integration. Some have control of the market, which is horizontal integration. All this talk of integration makes some people think that platforms are monopolies, but they are wrong. Platforms aren’t monopolies. There are many differences between platforms and monopolies.
Technology and globalization have evened the playing field, so companies can’t make “super-normal” profits because there’s so much competitive pressure. People will just go somewhere else if you charge too much.
Platforms have low barriers to entry. Anybody can whip up a new website and become a contender. Potential competition is always right around the corner.
In the new paradigm, demand is more elastic. For example, we need electricity, and there’s not really any way around that. On the other hand, we don’t need Netflix. The difference between these two needs is the elasticity of demand. Platforms don’t put a chokehold on our needs the way monopolies tend to do.
People don’t hate platform companies the way they tend to hate traditional corporations. Yes, companies like Google and Amazon certainly have their detractors. There is plenty of irrational jealousy directed at figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, but he isn’t hated nearly as much as someone like John D. Rockefeller was. Platforms don’t have the kind of power in people’s lives the way that monopolies are disposed to have, so they don’t generate the same level of hatred.
Platform companies tend to have price discrimination, which is to say that the different sides pay different charges. For this reason, and for all the reasons listed above, information technology platform firms are different from monopolies.
Part II: the Gang of Four: the Leaders of the Platform Age
Chapter 3: A Mere Bookstore No More
In this chapter, we explore the history of amazon.com. In many respects, Amazon makes a good model for how to do things right. Amazon was predicted to fail in 2001. In response, founder Jeff Bezos decided to grow the company as fast as possible. By 2002, it was the first retailer to make a profit on internet commerce. Today it’s a big success.
It’s helpful to have First Mover Advantage (FMA). Being the first company to make a significant move in a market puts a company at a distinct advantage. You don’t necessarily have to be first, but early is good. An example of this is how Amazon beat the competition to simplify the process of making a purchase. At one time, it took 12 clicks to buy something on EBay. In 1997, Amazon introduced 1-Click transactions. They managed to reduce a lot of transaction friction and people gravitated to the site.
Customer experience is important. Amazon puts lots of effort into providing good customer service. The importance of customer experience is magnified due to the potency of network effects. Amazon asks for permission when it uses people’s info. This is a good thing to do. They also let people opt out of their emails. Users are encouraged to feel that their concerns matter to the company.
There are two levels of platform technology. The transaction is on the first level. The second level is how the platform makes suggestions and recommendations to users. Powerful business intelligence software allows the site to make relevant suggestions to users without the clutter of ads the users might not appreciate. Users can rate the products they purchase. In fact, they can even rate products that they didn’t purchase on the platform. The rating system takes advantage of network effects and allows the site to be even more accurate in the products it recommends to individual customers.
Amazon is not afraid to take risks and try new things. Sometimes, branching out into other things happens by accident, like it did with cloud computing. There are all kinds of Amazon offshoots because they take advantage of this kind of serendipitous creation.
Make no mistake, Amazon does have its fair share of errors and problems. With Kindle, they thought they could rewrite the publishing industry. They were wrong. Publishers are distrustful of the pricing scheme Amazon has for eBooks. There have been controversies over the products that Amazon does and does not sell. For example, attempting to block pornography from the site has resulted in books getting blocked that are legitimate gay and lesbian literature. It isn’t a simple thing to define some categories; what is considered pornography by some is regarded as erotica and sex positive material by others.
Amazon will continue to face competition. Legislation challenges loom ahead; there is a strong push towards forcing online retailers to charge sales tax. There are many trials ahead for Amazon. Even so, Amazon is well positioned to continue to grow and change into the future.
Chapter 4: Beyond the Computer
Now for a look at Apple. Once upon a time in 1977, there were three fellows, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. They started a little enterprise called Apple Computer. Famously, Jobs was forced to resign in 1985, only to return to the company in 1997.
In the mid-1980s, the company started developing other devices in addition to computers. They designed cameras, CD players, speakers and many other high tech gadgets. By the aughts, it was clear that the company was much more than a computer manufacturer. Apple Computer legally changed their name, dropping the word “computer” and simply calling the company Apple. They successfully branched out into many different products beyond computers. They also made big piles of money selling content.
Good design is part of the brand; Apple products look good and they don’t have extraneous bells and whistles. They are intuitive and straightforward. Simplicity, ease of use and enjoyment are the qualities that made Apple products great. These are also the qualities that make for great platforms. Products like the iPhone allowed partners to create apps, and so Apple became a platform company.
They continued to innovate. An important issue was how to maintain simplicity even though people have a bunch of different devices. Apple’s solution to this problem is to use cloud computing. The iPhone was a breakthrough. The App Store has made a lot of money for Apple.
Apple is happy to partner with little guys like programmers, but not so much with the big rollers. These decisions are made strategically to help foster a community of users but avoid giving air to competitors. They opened the Application Programing Interface (API), and now the App Store lets them grow even more without having to pay for developers, programmers, servicers or anyone else for these apps. Open APIs made innovation happen faster. Like other major platform companies, Apple figured how to monetize its ecosystem besides by selling hardware and software.
Apple has exerted control in some cases that has made some of its partners unhappy. Porn apps were prohibited from the App Store. They also had to get pretty firm about the quality of apps that they’ll sell at the store. For the most part, however, they do what they can to keep the developers happy. They understand how important those developers are. They found a variety of external partners to work with. iTunes became successful because of its partnerships with big recording and publishing firms.
Apple has its critics. Some musicians don’t like iTunes because of its impact on that industry. Some people don’t like Apple’s fat margins. Apple offers a premium product, however, and so it’s entitled to charge premium prices. The criticisms are quickly dispatched with, perhaps too quickly. In the future, Apple will probably become a bigger target for hackers. But they will find a way through any problems.
Apple has been remarkably successful because it’s innovative and different. Its executives are wooed by other big tech firms. Everyone wants what they’ve got. They keep on being successful year after year, decade after decade.
Jobs died just as Simon was finishing the book. Discussion of his death is appended somewhat awkwardly at the end of the chapter.
Chapter 5: The King of Social
Next, we turn to Facebook. Facebook rose fast. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is a platform genius. He knew right from the beginning that he wanted the site to be a platform, back when no one was thinking like that. It was founded in 2004 by Zuckerberg and two chaps who are probably still hitting themselves because they didn’t stick around for long (Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes.)
Back in the day, Friendster was the big social networking site. It was enormously popular. In fact, it was too popular. There weren’t enough servers for all the people who wanted to be on it. Pages loaded slowly, and the user experience suffered. It was clear that there was a strong demand for this sort of site, but only if it functioned well.
Zuckerberg learned from Friendster’s mistakes. He made performance a priority. He was cautious about building the platform, because he wanted to be able to scale it up with minimum problems. He added planks one by one. Expansion was gradual.
One reason for its popularity is that Facebook is free to users. Ad space is sold in order to make money for the platform.
A big problem with early social networking sites like Friendster and Myspace was in allowing people to pretend to be whoever they wanted. They were wide open to frauds, spammers and all types of unsavory characters. Zuckerberg learned from this. Authenticity is important to building community. For this reason, people have to use their real names on Facebook. Certainly, the safeguards that are in place don’t make it impossible for someone to create a false identity on Facebook, but most people on the site are who they say they are.
The Facebook platform has a number of planks, such as ads, games, Facebook credits (the platform’s universal currency), the Like button, fan pages, tags and the news feed. But wait, there’s more! Other planks include events, email, instant messaging, groups and notes. And the hits just keep on coming. No doubt Zuckerberg will continue planking up his platform long into the future.
The platform does have its share of problems. Chief among them is the issue of censorship. Facebook has been inconsistent with what’s allowed to be posted. The site has received negative publicity for censoring famous people. Another big problem is privacy. Historically the platform has been laissez faire about dealing with this. It is also stingy with its API, reducing the potential for a community of developers to coalesce around the platform. Additionally, the platform is constantly changing. Sometimes people don’t like the changes and they go on Facebook to complain about it to their friends. This is so ironic.
The future is bright for Facebook. A big question is whether the company will go public. The SEC might force the issue. It could be problematic. Sometimes talented employees leave companies when they go public because they receive stock and become instantly wealthy.
A probable future development will see Facebook grow on mobile platforms. FB seems like they’ve learned from their mistakes and they’re likely going to be successful long into the future.
Chapter 6: From Search to Ubiquity
Sergey Brin and Larry Page incorporated Google in 1998. It didn’t take them long to realize that their search engine was limited. Even if they could search and index the web with breathtaking speed and efficiency, people would use the site more if it did more than simply search.
Google added lots of features beyond simple keyword searches, sometimes growing so fast that its purposes defied logic or planning. For example, they scanned the contents of libraries without getting copyright permission from publishers.
Google has lots and lots of planks. This keeps users on its platform. This includes planks such as mobile, maps and much more. They continue to add more products. As Amazon, Apple and Facebook did, Google has grown by moving sideways. They also monetized the platform with ads; additionally, they raised revenue by charging to bring up companies on user searches.
Company policy encourages innovation among employees. Part of the way Google maintains an edge is by requiring engineers to spend twenty percent of their time working on whatever products they like. They have institutionalized innovation.
Google tries to keep users on its platform by offering lots of different services. Integrated services are very convenient. Instead of having to log into numerous different websites to do a variety of things, users can stay within the bounds of one platform.
Google personalizes each search result for each user, using all the information it has gathered about them. The search algorithm tailors outcomes appropriately for individual users.
Google loves freemium. They charge users for very few things. This has certainly helped make them successful, but at the same time, they probably didn’t have a lot of choice. Services like search engines and email are offered for free by many different websites. With all this competition, Google probably would have failed had they tried to charge for these services.
Google has many large institutional partners. Telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T sell Google Droids. There are also thousands of developers who create apps for the platform.
Google has made their share of missteps. With their fingers in so many pies, it’s inevitable that a few mistakes will be made.
There are significant problems with privacy. For example, the mapping service Street View lets people look at all sorts of public and private spaces. They tried to get into the Chinese market, but the Chinese government didn’t play nice, and Google got all sorts of criticism for saying they’d go along with Chinese censorship. The whole thing didn’t last long. Another problem Google faces is that people perceive the company as arrogant. To a certain extent, this is due to their size and accomplishments. There will always be some people who are hostile to successful enterprises.
Looking to the future, Google will need to make some changes. Right now, they earn most of their money from advertising. They need to diversify. They need to balance growth and focus. But you know, they’re a big company; they’re innovative; they’ll be fine.
Part III: Synthesis: Understanding the Power of the Platform
Chapter 7: The DNA: Platform Components and Characteristics
The Gang of Four consists of the currently “most important” platforms on the internet. The Gang of Four have all changed a lot in the years since they started up. Maybe not so much Facebook, but certainly the rest of them originally weren’t even platforms when they started.
They all had the ability to scale, the ability to add more features and adapt to the changes that growth brings. Scaling is easier nowadays because of cloud computing. Companies no longer need to have more tangible resources as they grow. It’s crucial, however, to have enough computing power in order to scale up.
There are many properties these four platforms have in common. They all have dynamic stability, meaning they are stable and yet always changing. They are adaptable. They’re all dependent on data and technology. They collect lots of information about people because that helps them make decisions and function better. They understand their customers. The Gang of Four have lots of partners because that grows their businesses. They take advantage of network effects. They have communities that are really engaged. They benefit from positive feels. They have virality. The Gang of Four all have products that have the quality of simplicity. Their products are easy to use and are not junked up with extras and frills.
Lots of existing companies have cultures which make it difficult for them to form partnerships. They don’t play well with others. Collaboration is one of the only ways to “grow the pie” of value. Partners are necessities.
It’s useful to borrow ideas from other platforms, especially the successful ones. Facebook pioneered the like button, and now it, or something very much like it, is ubiquitous across the internet. Everyone borrows each other’s good ideas.
Platforms should cultivate stickiness, provide lots of different features so that it’s convenient for users to stay on the site as they engage in a variety of activities. The longer people are kept on the platform, the better.
Major platforms tend to have well known “rock star” executives at the top. Think of Zuckerberg, Bezos, and Jobs. These people didn’t become household names for nothing. Platform companies have visionary leaders. They aren’t democratic. Decision making can be done quickly when leadership is strong and there are few protocols requiring them to gain consensus. Once a decision is made, these leaders can then ensure that the decision is acted on.
Generally, it isn’t easy to move from one platform to another. You can’t look up Facebook entries on Google, for example. This is by design. Platforms want to keep users in the fold as much as possible, and don’t want them bleeding off to other platforms. Even so, the Gang of Four are all frenemies. The businesses overlap in significant ways and are natural competitors with one another. Yet they do cooperate with each other when it’s logical to do so. Users on one platform can typically import contact lists and similar information across multiple platforms.
In a lot of situations, it might not be possible for platforms to avoid politics. In today’s world, politics tinge many decisions whether firms like it or not. However, controversy can help a platform. Controversy can draw people to visit and check it out.
Chapter 8: Gimme the Prize! The Benefits of Platforms
It’s scary for existing firms to consider changing to the platform model, because that model contradicts so much traditional business wisdom. Considering how much there is to gain, however, all businesses should take a good hard look at moving to a platform business model. Platforms magnify the power of brands. Platform brands can become so powerful they are verb branded, that is to say, the firm’s name describes their core activity. For example, googling. For Google, this happened because they did their job better than their competitors. The brand has become seared into public awareness.
There are barriers to entry, and first mover advantage works against those who are only now entering the field. Everyone is already playing the internet game, so your widget platform is unlikely to be successful because some other widget dealer already beat you to it. This is not a reason to avoid platforms, however. The sooner you create a platform, the more you will come out ahead of the firms that will come after you. And an innovative approach can lead your firm to be first and have that tasty first mover advantage in new areas that are almost impossible to predict ahead of time.
Innovation is good. Welcome external players. Of course, it’s important to generate innovation in-house as well. Innovation sparks more innovation. As companies grow they have more resources to put toward innovation. Innovation can have positive or negative effects, it’s not just good all the time.
There are absolutely scads of good reasons to jump on the platform bandwagon. If you still aren’t convinced, the rest of this chapter will attempt to change your mind with one persuasive rationale after another.
Platforms can help to grow your business in ways that you could never have foreseen. Sometimes a platform will start a side business that becomes more and more lucrative and important than the original enterprise ever was.
Platforms can offer multiple products and services, which can save customers time from having to go to different places. This will keep your customers from going over to your competitors. Your customers will be grateful to have the convenience of having everything in one place, and their loyalty will continue to grow.
Among the many advantages of platform business is the data-mining activities that they typically engage in. The information gathered can increase your understanding of your customers. You can make recommendations based on their preferences, which will improve sales.
Platforms can react quicker to changing conditions than traditional firms. New products can be launched faster. They can respond with great agility to unexpected trends. In a world of continuous change, the ability to be light on one’s feet is essential.
Don’t let your company languish in the technological Stone Age. Your competition is probably already working on a platform right now.
Chapter 9: Slings and Arrows: The Perils of Platforms
While platforms are a great business model now in its ascendancy, that doesn’t mean that they are free of problems. Like any field of human endeavor, there is plenty of room for shortcomings and failure. Platforms aren’t always successful, for one thing. Sometimes they never get off the ground, sometimes they crash and burn. Platforms have their limits. They can’t sell bad products any more successfully than a traditional business can.
There are plenty of bad actors on the internet stage. Many have engaged in fraud. There are ads for illegal products. These problems have stirred regulatory interest. There really aren’t the resources to go after all the bad actors, so the government goes after the worst and most high profile ones.
Dishonest behavior doesn’t stay secret long. Misbehavior, or even mild controversy, can attract tons of negative attention. Needless to say, this can be devastating for network effects. In today’s world, reputation is more important than ever. Platforms should always strive to stay on the up-and-up.
The Gang of Four are as fast as anyone to make aggressive business moves. Sometimes this makes people mad at them. The Gang of Four often succeeded through ignoring established rules, laws and conventions, at least at the beginning when they were gaining momentum. You want to try to please your customers but sometimes, especially when you make changes, you can’t make everyone happy. There is real danger of alienating your user base, a real conundrum considering the need to move quickly and embrace change.
It’s good to have external partners. They enhance the functionality of the platform and help to increase the user base. There is a danger, though, that the partners on your platform will grow to become your competition. Affiliations between partners are fluid, and you should never expect such relationships to last forever.
Platforms aren’t a perfect solution to all the world’s ills. Lots of people dislike any given platform for any number of reasons. Just because an enterprise is a platform is not a guarantee it will do well. Many platforms are unsuccessful and fail. Some examples of platform failures include Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo!, Myspace, eBay and Enron. We can learn quite a bit from studying the failures of others. Each of these failed endeavors are examined and important lessons are highlighted. Although some of these companies have survived in the long run, they all have missed important opportunities in ways that caused them significant damage. For example, Myspace was once a social media powerhouse, but it had important design problems. In an extreme example of user personalization, it lacked a coherent interface making the platform inconsistent and confusing. In addition to these problems, there wasn’t an easy way to monetize the platform. Top executives were unable to figure out how the company could make a decent profit off the site.
There are many potential headaches and pitfalls for the platform business, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile to pursue the business model. The rewards outweigh the potential downsides.
Chapter 10: The How: Tips for Building a Platform
Here we have a chapter loaded with good advice for designing platforms. Be forewarned, however, that there’s no magic path that will lead to a platform that will make you rich and famous. Even if you follow all of these recommendations, it’s no guarantee of success. This chapter is somewhat like if you had an uncle in in the business who is happy to share his experiences with you and give you his advice.
Stay simple and as minimal as possible. Eschew bureaucracy. Act small. Traditional companies get bogged down in rules and paperwork that can really hinder innovation.
Nurture the community on your platform by staying open and collaborative. Open APIs are really important for fostering an active community.
Look for extensions — new planks — that fit with your core activity. Make intelligent acquisitions. In some situations, it can be better to buy a company that has technology that you want than to try to replicate the technology and have that company out there competing with you.
Develop lots of ideas. Take small risks. Go down that path to see if it leads somewhere.
Maintain core business operations even though you innovate too.
Understand that you’ll fail frequently. That’s OK. That’s the price of innovation. Don’t let it stop you.
Perfectionism can be an obstacle to getting things done. Of course, you want to provide a quality product, but at some point, you have to let it go. Focusing on total perfection slows you down. By the time your product is perfect, it might well be obsolete.
Start with the greatest capacity that you can. Excess is good. That way you can handle unexpected spikes. That way you can scale up when the time comes.
Know when it’s time to get out.
Breadth is better than depth. Better to do many things than to specialize deeply in one thing. A platform that has multiple related functions will keep users on the platform better than a platform that does one thing really well.
It’s dangerous to cling to safety. Embrace risk. It’s safer.
When you see an opportunity, move quickly. Patience is good in many ways when you build a platform. However, most opportunities don’t stick around for long. The secret is in knowing the opportunities that will best serve your platform and jumping on them quickly.
Take advantage of existing planks. It’s a lot of work creating new planks from scratch. External websites, emails, blogs, applications and open source tools can all be harnessed to benefit your platform.
Encourage cross pollination. Don’t fear your competitors being on your platform. Likewise, you should try to get on theirs.
Add planks as needed. Look for gaps in the services that you provide and determine if those gaps can be filled through partnerships, by adding internal planks or by buying a company that provides the service.
Be realistic. Don’t imagine that you’ll get rich quick or anything like that.
Part IV: Looking Forward
Chapter 11: The Candidates: Today’s Emerging Platforms
In the future, the Gang of Four will have to keep a close eye on each other as well as monitor any new competition that arises. No one knows what will happen next. Hindsight can make some changes seem inevitable, but those past changes were just as difficult to predict in their day as future changes are today. Bearing this in mind, Simon bravely jumps into the fray and identifies some platforms which he believes have promise, and that may come to dominate their fields as much as the Gang of Four do today.
One platform that shows promise is Foursquare. This platform allows people to use mobile devices to check in at public locations. People can bookmark places and share information with others. This platform is doing things right by allowing integration with existing social media sites like Facebook, and by keeping their API open to developers.
Twitter has been around for a while. They had some problems scaling when they became popular. They upgraded to new technology that could handle the growth. They acted on this decision quickly. As it says above, in Chapter Ten, opportunities should be seized with all due speed.
WordPress is a content management system that provides a platform for users to create blogs and websites of their own. It has an open API and developers have really gone to town building extensions and plugins for the platform.
Offering great deals from markets all over the world, Groupon has quickly become popular. Their API is open to anyone who registers, and they have a statement on their site openly welcoming developers to create improvements, new extensions and interfaces. As of 2011, when this book was written, they are expected to go public soon. Analysts expect the company to do well.
Adobe is well known for its PDF viewer Reader and video application Flash, but the company actually does much more. Their Creative Suite brings together a set of tools that help users design and format websites, apps and videos. They also offer a software development kit called Flex, as well as developer tools for mobile applications. In 2011, they rounded up all of their products and gathered them onto one platform, Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform. While Apple has treated Adobe with hostility, other platforms have been more welcoming; for example, Google Android supports Flash but Apple does not. Adobe will need to find a way to deal with Apple in order for its platform to thrive.
Running applications in the cloud can be a way for businesses to outsource hardware and software development and maintenance. Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com, thinks this is a great idea, and he hopes you will consider his service. Salesforce has opened their infrastructure to developers so that companies can run whatever apps they want on Salesforce.com servers. They offer a wide range of tools to help developers accomplish this through its Force.com platform.
LinkedIn is huge, and it continues to grow in popularity. It’s a good place for job recruiters to find highly qualified candidates. Like other successful platforms, its APIs are available to developers on its website.
Quora provides crowdsourced questions and answers. They don’t have an open API. Strictly speaking, they aren’t exactly a platform, but they do have a strong community centered on their website. It’s really more than a plank than a platform, but we’ll keep our eye on this to see if a platform develops out of it.
No one knows what the future holds for these, or any other, platforms. Don’t let uncertainty hold you back. Use the websites that suit you and your circumstances the best, not because they are on this list or because they dominate the field. Create your own platforms in the spirit of enterprise and enthusiasm. Remember, this is a rapidly changing environment. Sometimes you’ve just got to take the plunge.
Chapter 12: Coda: A Glimpse of What’s Beyond
Platforms can bring great success to a business. They are the best business model for these times because a platform is never a finished product. It always changes and grows. It’s adaptable. We need an adaptable business model because all kinds of technological changes are on their way. New products and services are here, like wearables, robot vacuum cleaners and facial recognition.
Web 3.0 is going to be all about integrated data. So, for example, when you look at a date on your calendar it shows you photos you took that day, your shopping list, your bank transactions, etc.
Tomorrow belongs to the Semantic Web. Just like how documents have standards, data should have standards. That way data can be used across platforms. This will change how we interact with data and with how data interacts with us. Data will be used ubiquitously; even our dental work will be achieved through nanobiotics.
It’s predicted that the process will accelerate. Some theorists say that people are going to merge with computers. We could be seeing the dawn of nonbiological intelligence. We might be on the threshold of singularity, that is to say, the entire planet could be united as a single intelligence composed of individual people and machines just as human brains are composed of individual cells and other tissues.
We don’t yet know what all these new things mean for platforms. The Gang of Four will certainly do their best to change and adapt, attempting to stay ahead of the curve. These strategies have done well for them in the past, so they likely won’t abandon them. Beyond that, it’s not possible to predict what these companies will do. For one thing, big companies don’t broadcast their plans until they’re ready to implement them. There’s no point in tipping your hand to the competition. But even more to the point, the big companies probably don’t know yet themselves how they’re going to meet future challenges. Even the smart guys can’t predict the future, so like the rest of us, they have to respond to change as it occurs.
That isn’t to say the big companies passively lie around waiting for change. They strike a balance, experimenting with things and making provisional plans. They do everything they can to prepare for change. The Big Four do have an advantage, they can afford to make some mistakes. Other companies not as much.
Prepare for the future. Don’t expect amazing results, but do build a platform with planks. Take the advice in this book, look to the Big Four for role models. Avoid the pitfalls of failed companies. Stay open to change. We’d all like to live in simpler times, but it just isn’t possible to go backwards. Adapt. Change. Grow. Live in the now.
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