The announcement of the Google Wave platform and all the early descriptions of the role it could play in building Web based applications has me thinking about the power of platforms in general. I think an important concept for us all to think about is the trend we are seeing towards companies creating new platforms that enable developers to write software that target specific people or activities in a unique way. Although we are aware that a handful of successful platforms have been built over the last five years, I am not sure we really appreciate what this means, or the precedent it is setting. Platforms as a marketing device, or revenue generating tool are becoming powerful so we should think about where that might lead us and how we might take advantage.
For example, Facebook has created a platform for the eCommunity space. Their platform is allowing developers to create software programs that leverage the community aspect of Facebook by providing the connections between people that know each other. In other words, once the community is built, and you give a developer the ability to write an application inside the community’s walls, there are all kinds of interesting features that can be provided for people to share and use as a group. If nothing else, you can expose your application to the community so it is easy for them to get to your functionality.
Apple created the first wildly successful platform that is phone (or handheld) based. The iPhone platform has over 50,000 applications now written for it and is setting the bar that all other handheld makers will now have to reach. This includes Google with their Android platform built for the G1. Google clearly understands the power of a platform because their Adwords and pay-per-click empire is built on a search based advertising platform that is also defining the marketplace. It makes sense that they will now attempt to capture a major piece of the online applications space by promoting Google Wave as a platform for building online capabilities into applications, or maybe applications into an online platform.
Twitter is also a platform now. It is defining the process of microblogging. You can microblog through Facebook and other systems, but Twitter is hands down the platform that has been built to best write applications that extend the concept of microblogging. I don’t even need to waste your time giving you statistics on Twitter growth because it is pretty obvious to everyone that it is on a quick curve upward – even if it takes a time out from time to time to catch it’s breath. What is not slowing is the number of new Twitter based applications coming out EVERY DAY.
One lesson to learn for sure is that there is an advantage to writing applications for a platform in its early days. The developers that were early into Facebook, Twitter or iPhone, have been able to ride those waves to success in many cases. In other words, just being early into these platforms has created wealth for people that otherwise would never that kind of chance. It might be wise to take a little more seriously trying to figure out what the next platform to explode might be and get in front of it.
Back in the 80’s, the computer hardware manufacturers all fought to set hardware standards because being anointed with a standard gave them an advantage in the market. “They who set the standards wins” was the model. In much the same way, being anointed as the software platform of choice guarantees a company a large part of the market share in that space. Google has over 60% market share of the search space, Apple has the fastest growing handheld ever released and is now the one to beat in the market. Facebook has just passed its 250 millionth user. Clearly winning the hearts of developers and users to your platform for development is a winning strategy. I suspect this will mean a race for the next ten years of companies jockeying to be the leading platform across the spectrum of areas in technology. The reality is there can be a platform built for any type of application, and in many cases it makes sense to give the platform away for free, or a low amount of money just to have it gain majority traction. I guess this is really the model for open source anyway. So with that said, how long until we see companies providing free, or nearly free platforms in areas such as accounting systems, security, network monitoring, CRM, workflow, etc… I envision we will have a free platform for just about every type of functionality within the next 10 years. I can’t wait!!