What is a Platform?: a discussion from the past

I’ve written, a fair amount, on the concept of a platform.  The term, while wildly popular, is one of those that is defined differently by everyone who uses it.  I, typically, tend to favour the definition:

A platform aligns the business interests of multiple audiences to ensure the creation of value while solving for technical complexity.

Ultimately, the goal of a platform is to allow all audiences, or participants, to make business decisions for business reasons…not because of technology limitations.

Dave Winer, who writes at http://www.scriptingnews.com is one of those bloggers who causes me to do one of two things:

  1. Agree so strongly that I find myself speaking aloud at the screen
  2. Disagree so strongly that I find myself arguing with the screen

This weekend, Dave wrote about why the iPhone is an unreliable platform.  The article, while interesting and a worthy discussion on the open vs. closed nature of platforms in general, linked to a piece that was written in 1995 entitled What is a Platform? I encourage you to spend a bit of time reading his defintion as I agree, largely, with the content.

There are a few quotes from the post following the break…

I first heard the word "platform" used at an Esther Dyson conference in the mid 80s. The word was showing up everywhere, in cocktail conversation, on stage, in Esther’s talk, and in every other sentence from virtually every speaker.

Phrases and concepts run thru those conferences every year. They can be very ephemeral, lasting one year, like "object oriented" and "convergence," or sometimes they show up year after year. Platform has stuck. Ten years later we’re still talking about platforms. It’s a valuble concept.

This was penned in 1995.  Now, in 2008, the concept is not only sticky but has engendered a radical shift in how business is performed.

Does this mean that platform is a recursive concept? I think so. Platforms build on platforms. But it’s (hopefully) not a house of cards. More like those 3D chess games they play on Star Trek. Elegant, but a bit of a klooge.

“Platforms build on platforms.”  The importance of this statement cannot be underestimated.  (Rather, it can be underestimated, but you shouldn’t).  In meetings last week with a platform provider, I spent alot of time discussing the nature of linking platforms and ensuring connectivity across to all participants.  It is, in essence, finding the overlapping point in a Venn diagramme and ensuring this point of intersection grows greater and greater over time.

A platform is "a blueprint for the evolution of a popular software interface or specification."

Love it.  It, as a technology focused discussion, misses to a degree the importance of ensuring that platforms create revenue for all in participation.  I have a more lengthy discussion of that concept in my post entitled Google Advertising: a platform example.

There is a fair bit more I want to copy/comment on from Dave’s piece.  But the above, for now, captures the majority of the discussion.  I encourage giving it a read and then leave me a comment if you want to discuss something in particular.

What’s your perspective? Agree? Disagree? Anything to add? Critiques?
The comment form is below. . .

September 15, 2008

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