Technology Platforms in a Nutshell

One of tech’s dirty words is platform. The idea is simple – build something that others can build on top of, and suddenly you have control of not just a product, but a little ecosystem.

That’s a really common thing to do, but there are a few choices you have to make. If you make a tool and widget that goes into it, does that widget conform to standards set by agreement, or do you have the power to change standard widget design whenever you want to? Is it free for other people to make widgets? Does any of this matter to the consumers?

I set the rules around here

Let’s say that you create a product + widgets, and you’re the only one that sells both. It’s likely that you’ll sell the product cheap and the widgets are relatively expensive, because that cost is sneakily hidden from the customer. This is the “razor blade model“, which you all know about.

Now let’s say that you create a product + widgets, you make the tool and control the standard widget, but you allow anyone else to make widgets. (This could be the App Store or Minidisc.) Now, you really have two sets of people to worry about – your customers and your widget developers.

  • Your customers would like to see lots of different widgets out there, because that probably makes your platform more appealing.
  • Your widget developers would like to make money. So they want a huge user base, and for you not to screw them by changing the rules – like suddenly integrating features of their widget into the main tool, wiping their business out.

I abide by the standards

One way for you to help your widget developers feel like they’re not going to get screwed is give control of widget standards to a standards body like W3C or ISO. The disadvantage is that you lose control – if the market changes and you want to make a change to the standard widget, there’s a lot of buggering around. Even worse, those standards bodies probably work with your competitors too, so it’s going to be hard to make a change to the standard that will benefit you.

The answer is changing

This sort of stuff is becoming more important in software. That’s because:

  • It’s getting easier to develop software (even the kids are doing it!)
  • Customers are getting used to applications with a shedload of functionality, and one company might not have the resources to do all that, no matter .

My opinion – keeping those widget developers happy is more important than ever. So – if you’re going all platform, remember those two things you need to provide for them – lots of end customers and a degree of stability.


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