All About Platforms

If your passion is in technology, you often sigh with the marketing buzzwords used in sales. Cloud Computing doesn’t actually mean anything specific (or could mean a lot of things). It’s that a lot of things to a lot of people who makes it useful as a term, an  ideology, a way of explaining why you-oh-so-need-to-do-this-now. Cloud computing for me is a platform description. I think of the myriad of hosting companies who offer a platform to build your service atop.

Technology has been and will continue to be all about platforms. Look at Windows, the perfect example of an “open” platform that is actually very, very closed. Open in the sense it makes you feel fuzzy inside with all the control you seem to have. But closed when the platform operator decides they need a change of direction and emphasis. If your smart, you realise this and either a) kick the football down the road or b) do your best to plan ahead. Either option is sub-optimal. What platforms do offer you is a foundation to build upon. They save you time, money, engineering talent and when they work well are indispensable.

If you build the platform, you can make a lot of money. Just ask Amazon and Microsoft. Facebook, Twitter and Google are still ramping up their platform efforts. Adobe has just announced the realised their very valuable Flash platform is dead on mobile devices. They realised platforms are very purpose specific (to be valuable) and that value is in the already-mature desktop market - the investment in mobile wasn’t worth it. Adobe has always made money from the tools (as has Microsoft, apart from selling the platform Windows they sell Office, Sharepoint etc) and is focusing on targeting a larger platform in HTML5. If Adobe succeeds they’ll make a lot more money, or even if they capture a small section of the market which is bigger then the previous flash creation tools market.

Monetisation is also tricky for platforms. Amazon’s strategy is similar to Wal-Mart, make it big, reliable and cheap. Only big companies can ever compete with Amazon on that scale. Smaller companies must rely on getting as many people to their platform as possible (to get as big) or creating a niche in say highly regulated environments which are high value but low volume.

In short: Platforms are good, but know when to jump off !