Thursday, October 29, 2009

Being a Platform is Everything

… when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” --Tony “Scarface Montana

In the world of computing, first you get the users, then you get the applications, then you get the power. What do I mean by power? In a word “platform”. If the only way for users to get applications is through you, and the only way for application developers to get to users is through you, then you are a platform. If you continue to nurture and grow your platform, your company is immortal and it is a goose that will continue to lay golden eggs.

To get the users, you need to deliver immediate value. Once you achieve critical mass of users, the developers will start showing up, whether you want them or not. A good example of this was Myspace. They attracted so many users, that developers started providing extensions directly to these users without Myspace’s blessing. But instead of embracing these developers and their applications—and thereby achieving immortality—Myspace took the perspective that these applications were leaches cutting in on their franchise. Distant second place contender Facebook embraced developers and the rest is history. Facebook growing, Myspace shrinking.

Another classic example of the power of the developer is the iPhone. Before the iPhone, the carriers would pick and choose which applications would be “on deck” and thereby available to that carrier’s users. It was a long and expensive process and you had to run separate processes for each carrier.

The iPhone came along and made it easy for users to find and use any number of applications and load them on their phone. This has turned the phone industry on its head. Building a developer-friendly platform is in the DNA of Apple, clearly it wasn’t in the DNA of mobile carriers, but they are learning.

The challenge in dealing with developers is that if you invite them in the front door, they will then want access to the back door and the side doors. By this I mean that if you provide a base platform with a certain set of functions, the initial wave of applications will build on top of this platform. Then others will find deficiencies in the platform and they will want to extend the core platform. This is analogous to going in the back door. Then others developers will want to connect your platform to other applications or services (the side door).

If you only open the front door and barricade the side doors and the back door, you expose yourself to the risk of a more open platform stealing your users and application developers. Apple has historically opened only the front door to developers. They are following this model once again with the iPhone, resulting in jailbreaking efforts. If another device comparable to the iPhone comes along and provides a more open and flexible platform it too could displace the iPhone. The Palm Pre is just being released and they are talking about opening it to all applications. Google’s Android operating system is also a threat.

How does this topic apply to ScaleDB? MySQL has become a platform, but will they continue to nurture and grow the platform, or will they barricade the side and back doors, thus driving developers into the open arms of competitors like PostgreSQL? See my next post…

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