There is a huge attraction today in building a platform - whether it's a software platform competing for space on devices (Android, Symbian, LiMo, Java, Flash, WebKit, Opera), or an "in the cloud" platform on the internet (Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace) - what all the new media and technology upstarts want to be is to be a platform that has multiple great products from innovators both within the platform company and outside the platform company.
We've seen this evolution before - both in technology (the evolution of the mainframe platform companies like IBM, the desktop platform companies such as Microsoft and Intel) where the platform consisted of hardware+OS software and the products were software applications that ran on the combination and also in media with the creation of the TV broadcasting companies - where the platform was the (licensed) TV broadcast infrastructure, and the products were the TV shows.
In both cases the platform owners were able to leverage huge returns over a long period of time, and create large barriers to entry to competitors.
No wonder everyone wants to be a platform.
So how do you go about building a platform?
Platforms succeed because they have multiple, great, products that use them - so to create a successful platform you need to first create multiple great products. Sometimes in the rush to win the platform wars this essential fact can get lost - and people hope that merely by building a great platform automatically great products will get built.
Unfortunately it turns out that there is more to building a great product than merely starting with a great platform. While a great platform can help you build a great product - it doesn't stop you from building a mediocre product.
This is a challenge for anyone who wants to take advantage of a platform to create a product - how do you pick the right platform to build your product on?
My recommendation? Look for the platform where the people responsible for that product are focussed on creating multiple great products of their own using the platform.
Looking at the platform landscape today I see the following as clear winners
- Apple (Mac, iPhone/iPod Touch, iTunes Store are all great products, and can be used as great platform)
- Amazon (Amazon's store, Amazon Marketplace are great products, so I'll continue to use AWS as a great platform)
- Open Web and WebKit - WebKit's quality and performance across multiple devices shows potential, and where WebKit isn't there the web standards are a great platform to develop against
- Linux (server side) - for web services Linux has such a rich, flexible heritage, and such a broad range of technology available it's an great platform to build with
I'm also keeping an eye on the following - as they have great products and the potential to be great platforms
- BBC - iPlayer is a great product, if this becomes a platform it could be a global success
- Google - search is a great products - and they have the potential to be a great platform company, but it's still early for their other products and platform plans
- Cisco - great network products, but not yet clear how they are leveraging this to be a platform
- Adobe - some good products, some that are OK, but increasingly challenged by the Open Web