Every Product Is A Platform
At Gnomedex, there was a well publicized spat between Jason Calacanis and Dave Winer. I followed the whole thing and felt badly for both of them as neither was being understood by the other very well. But there was one point in the middle of the mess that was very important and got kind of glossed over.
Winer said in his original post:
Bottom-line, he needs to figure out a way to build the company so that many others can profit from it. Otherwise I don't think it has a prayer against Google, which we like less and less as a company, but who basically offers an equitable proposition to the users of the Internet, who the Gnomedex crowd represent in a loose kind of way.
Jason responded in his retort:
I've never looked at Mahalo as a platform, but rather a product. I understand Dave's interest is in things he can manipulate and play with it. He does fun things with Flickr and Twitter all the time, and I feel him on that. However, who said Mahalo was closed? So far we've had people create Facebook applications, widgets, and Firefox extensions for Mahalo, and Dave is certainly welcome to do that. We publish a bunch of RSS feeds already, and more are on the way. ....
However, I'll take the blame. We have not published an official API yet, although it's in the works, and also we haven't released a friendly copyright policy--although we're figuring it out.
I do not believe you can build a product in this day and age without focusing on the platform requirements. All the best products are platforms in their own right; Google, YouTube, Facebook, etc, etc
The [twitter] API has >10x the traffic of twitter.com. That's a great stat and I'd like to find other companies that have that metric working for them.
I don't think you can build a very good business just trying to build a platform. Look at YouTube vs Bright Cove. Bright Cove has built an amazing video publishing system for the web. But if you use them to publish your video, you don't get an instant audience. YouTube has a so-so video publishing system, nothing near as robust as Bright Cove. But you get millions of potential viewers instantly when you publish via YouTube.
And I don't think you can build a great product without being a platform. Facebook wouldn't have Scrabulous, Texas Holdem, iLike, Top Friends, and many other good apps without being a platform. You cannot build everything even if you want to. And when you let others build cool stuff on top of your product/platform, you give back to the Internet.
Which is the point that Dave was trying to make. Google is such an amazing business because as much as it takes from the Internet (close to $15bn/year at current run rate), it gives more back. Every single business that operates on the Internet gets value out of Google. Now I think Google could be a lot more generous with its API and if anyone is going to "beat" Google, they are going to do it with a more open platform, one that gives even more back than Google.
When we look at web businesses to invest in, we think hard about the API. What could it be used for? What new services could it open up? When the API is even more exciting than the .com, that's a big deal to me.