The Dangers of Being a Platform

Andrew P. sent me this article Apple vs. the Web: The Case for Staying Out of Steve Jobs’s Walled Garden that makes a strong case for your media company to not develop (or at least not bet the bank on) an iPhone App as the way out of trouble.

Few companies actually know how to manage being a platform for an ecosystem and Apple is definitely not one of them. Remember this is company that’s never played well with others and has a deeply disturbing control freakishness to it. Much like Canadians are willing to tolerate the annoying traits of the federal NDP, consumers and developers were willing to tolerate these annoying traits as long as Apple was merely influencing the marketplace but not shaping it. As Apple’s influence grows, so to do the rumblings about its behaviour. People say nice things about Apple’s products. I don’t hear people say nice things about Apple. This is stage one of any decline.

Here, history could be instructive. Look back at another, much more maligned company that has a reputation of not playing well with others: Microsoft. Last year, I wrote this piece about how their inability to partner helped contribute to their relative decline. In short, after kicked around and bullying those who succeeded on its platform, people caught the message and stopped. Today Apple thrives because people elect to innovate on their platform. Because it has been interesting, fun, and to a much, much lesser degree, profitable. Take away the “interesting” and “fun” and/or offer up even a relatively interesting competing platform… and that equation changes.

Heck, even from a end user’s perspective the deal Apple made with me is breaking. Their brand is around great design and fun (think of all those cute fun ads). They still have great design, but increasingly when I think of Apple and the letter F comes to mind the word “fun” isn’t what pops into my head… its “fascism.” Personally I’m fairly confident my next phone will not be an iPhone. I like the phone, but I find the idea of Steve Jobs controlling what I do and how I do it simply too freaky. And I don’t even own a multi-million dollar media empire.

So being a platform is hard. It isn’t license to just print money or run roughshod over whoever you want. It is about managing a social contract with all the developers and content creators as well as all the end users and consumers. That is an enormous responsibility. Indeed, it is one so great we rarely entrust it to a single organization that isn’t the government. Those seeking to create platforms, and Apple, and Facebook especially (and Google and Microsoft to a lesser extent) would all do well to remember that fact.

Oh, and if you’re part of a media companies, don’t expect to saved by some hot new gizmo. Check out this fantastic piece by John Yemma, the Editor of The Christian Science Monitor:

So here’s my position: There is no future in a paywall. No salvation in digital razzle dazzle.

There is, however, a bold future in relevant content.

That’s right. Apple won’t save you. Facebook doesn’t even want to save you. Indeed, there is only one place online where the social contract is clear. And that’s the one you can create with your readers by producing great content. On the web.

13 thoughts on “The Dangers of Being a Platform

  1. Brenton

    Your comparison with the federal NDP isn't just odd, it doesn't even make much sense. I'm not a big fan or defender, but that seems like such a cheap shot, David.

    Reply
  2. johanneswheeldon

    Indeed it was a cheap shot – poor form IMNSHO. Overall, I think this whole piece is wrong headed. You are free to dislike Apple but suggesting Iphone Apps aren't going to 'save' anyone seems to suggest there is one path to success. As you have argued successfully elsewhere – there is not 1 path, but many…Apple is not in the business of 'saving' anyone but themselves…inventors, and new media folks will have to decide on a case by case basis what works for them. This may or may not include working with Apple. Back to the gym, David.

    Reply
  3. David Eaves

    Sorry Brenton and Johannes,One thing this blog tries to do is bridge the gap between politics and technology. I actually think the comparison – in this narrow regard – between Apple and the federal NDP is quite nice. Both can be innovative and can push everyone else to adopt better ideas, but many people are not comfortable with them in charge. Johannes, not sure I understand you comment at all… I'm not arguing there is only one path, but I am arguing that believing apple is “the” path is a mistake. My point is that there is one place where you, as a creator, have control over the social contract you can create, and that is one the web. So my sense is we are in agreement.Finally, since you've both got me going, I'll go further. If you support the federal NDP and you believe your goal is to form a governing majority then I've truly lost any hope for the party. The NDP's strength has always been its capacity to push the boundary of what's possible and force the other parties to move forward. Its historic (not insignificant) influence has been its capacity to influence the system, not try to achieve power. Indeed, not trying to achieve power is what gives it that influence.In this regard, my comment – cheap shot or not – is a recognition of the role the NDP has played (and one that I hope it will return to playing) as it did great things for this country. More importantly, I think Canadians have understand and liked this role, hence, tough comment, but I believe fair (and truthful).

    Reply
  4. johanneswheeldon

    I guess we will have to agree to disagree. I don't know anyone who thinks Apple couldn't be more open, but for all the annoyances they have offered an innovative business model that works for musicians (itunes), authors (ipad) and developers (iphone). Again – I'm not sure where your 'saved' language comes from or your reference to 'facism.' I would be careful with both. My other concern is your timing vis a vis the NDP. The UK version of the NDP – the Liberal Democrats are poised to become kingmakers in the UK, form a coalition, and bring about real electoral reform. These have been the issues and approach many dippers I know have been working on for ages. While the UK deal is far from certain, it offers a model for Canadians to learn from. I guess your 'influence but not shape' comment says something about your politics. It's just not what I am used to reading on this site. It is your blog after all, but I wonder if your reach hasn't exceeded your grasp on this one.

    Reply
  5. Brenton

    The comparison may be apt, but your bridge was non-existent. If there's a comparison, make it. By tossing it out there without much context, it reads like a slur.Try this: insert COPE for the NDP and your statement might sound callous and patronizing, given your involvement with Vision.

    Reply
  6. David Eaves

    Your reach hasn't exceeded your grasp? I've played nice, but be careful about being insulting. Particularly given your grasp of the Liberal Democrats.What i find particularly ironic is that your reference to the UK Liberal Democrats confirms my point. If the the NDP and the LibDems are alike it is not by their location in the political spectrum, but their relative size and influence within the political system (the focus of my point, which you seem to implicitly agree with). Politically, the Liberal Democrats sit more in the /centre of the British Political spectrum/ and are closer to Canada's Liberal Party than they are the NDP. The party that most closely resembles the NDP in Britain is… Labour. So if the LibDems are like the NDP it is in the manner I am suggesting, that their influence comes not from trying to win an election, but influencing the process to advance their policy agenda. Sigh.As an aside, there is a fair bit more over reach in your statement. Apple been a boon for artists. Indeed, many artists (particularly independent artists) do not even get compensated for the sale of their music on iTunes – let me track down some stories once my flight lands. But there are artists who have not consented to have their music on iTunes and who do not get compensated for its sales. Nor do I think it is yet obvious that the iPad will be a boon for authors. That claim is far, far, far too early to make.

    Reply
  7. David Eaves

    Hi Brenton, I think I'm understanding now. It wasn't that the comment was incorrect, just mean. If that is the nature of the concern, that could be fair. But sometimes the truth is harsh. As for the bridge, this entire blog is an attempt to be a bridge between technology, politics, open, progressivism… I'm sorry if the comment riffled and the most important thing is that it was a more than fair assessment of the situation. I understand that some of my more left leaning readers may not be happy, but I stand by it.

    Reply
  8. David Eaves

    Your reach hasn't exceeded your grasp? I've played nice, but be careful about being insulting. Particularly given your grasp of the Liberal Democrats.What i find particularly ironic is that your reference to the UK Liberal Democrats confirms my point. If the the NDP and the LibDems are alike it is not by their location in the political spectrum, but their relative size and influence within the political system (the focus of my point, which you seem to implicitly agree with). Politically, the Liberal Democrats sit more in the /centre of the British Political spectrum/ and are closer to Canada's Liberal Party than they are the NDP. The party that most closely resembles the NDP in Britain is… Labour. So if the LibDems are like the NDP it is in the manner I am suggesting, that their influence comes not from trying to win an election, but influencing the process to advance their policy agenda. Sigh.As an aside, there is a fair bit more over reach in your statement. Apple been a boon for artists. Indeed, many artists (particularly independent artists) do not even get compensated for the sale of their music on iTunes – let me track down some stories once my flight lands. But there are artists who have not consented to have their music on iTunes and who do not get compensated for its sales. Nor do I think it is yet obvious that the iPad will be a boon for authors. That claim is far, far, far too early to make.

    Reply
  9. David Eaves

    Hi Brenton, I think I'm understanding now. It wasn't that the comment was incorrect, just mean. If that is the nature of the concern, that could be fair. But sometimes the truth is harsh. As for the bridge, this entire blog is an attempt to be a bridge between technology, politics, open, progressivism… I'm sorry if the comment riffled and the most important thing is that it was a more than fair assessment of the situation. I understand that some of my more left leaning readers may not be happy, but I stand by it.

    Reply

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