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I nominate “platform” for overused tech word of 2010. Yeah, I whined about this a few months ago in my post Your Platform Is Not In My Space.
I hear the word “platform” in over 50% of the short pitches I get. A friend of mine who is working on a new startup that isn’t even funded yet (and he’s grinding on the financing) described his goal of “creating a platform for a-phrase-that-only-73-early-adopters-will-userstand.) Entrepreneurs everywhere describe the first release of their MVP (“minimum viable product” – for those of you that haven’t intersected with the Lean Startup movement) app as a “platform”. The first three pages of a google search on “platform” are 33% tech, 33% politics, and 34% other. At least Google image search is more accurate, for example:
Ahem – give me a fucking break. Yup – I get it – it’s great to be a platform. I give you Facebook and Twitter as examples. But real platforms are few and far between. And creating “a platform” is not necessarily the right first move for your brand new consumer facing application. Why don’t you start by being super useful to a bunch of consumers first.
I know I’ve been overusing the word “platform” lately – it’s like a weird brain infection that is hard to diagnose and then eliminate. I’ve found it – now it’s time to remove it from my vocabulary.
In the last few days there have been a large number of posts about two platform companies – Apple and Twitter. These posts covered a wide range of perspectives (a few of the better ones are linked to below) but fundamentally came down to the tension between a platform (e.g. the iPhone OS or Twitter) vs. third party developers that build applications on top of the platforms.
Several of the Twitter related posts include The Twitter Platform’s Inflection Point, Twitter and third-party Twitter developers, and Developers In Denial: The Seesmic Case Study. Several of the Apple related posts ones include and Adobe Vs. Apple War Generates Rage, Facebook Group, Why Apple Changed Section 3.3.1, Steve Jobs response on section 3.3.1. If you missed the leads to the story, Apple made a major change in their TOS and Twitter launched an official Blackberry client and acquired the Tweetie iPhone client, rattling their developer community. And Twitter Officially Responds To Developers and Tries To Calm Fears.
While there has been an amazing outburst of reaction – including much surprise and criticism – to both of these situations, they should come as no surprise to anyone that has been in the computer business for a long time. What we are experiencing is the natural evolutionary struggle that exists between a platform and its developers. In the past few years, both Twitter and Apple have created amazing platforms and build incredible network effects on top of their platforms. One way they have done this is to embrace developers, who have flocked to these platforms in droves, building a huge variety of awesome, great, good, mediocre, and crummy products on top of the platforms. Some of these products have created meaningful revenue for the developers, others have generated fame, and many have generated a giant time sink of work that hasn’t resulted in much. This is the nature of being a developer on top of a platform.
True platforms are special things that are rare. Fortunately, developers have a lot of choices and that is a powerful dynamic that keeps both the platforms and developers evolving. I think the next few months are going to be pretty exciting ones as the current phase we are in sorts itself out.