What makes a (successful) Platform?

Seems everyone want to be a platform. And why not – platforms are enablers of new relationships and applications, and they become indispensable once platform status is achieved.

A platform requires identifying and providing tools or services that add value to a broad number of parties in the ecosystem. An example is Google maps, initially a late arrival in the online maps space, and now used as the basis for everything from the twitter maps to the Charleston Gazette’s interactive local election maps (with thanks to CyperJournalist).

Similar things are evident around SalesForce.com and its AppExchange program. Now it’s FaceBooks turn – again.

While there’s a lot of bits sent on what the platform approach means for the social network site from Alec Saunders analysis to the Read/Write Webs discussion on motivators – for both FaceBook and developers.

What’s interesting to me is what makes a successful platform.

First I think it’s more than an API or development framework– it’s an approach to business that recognizes one’s core value, and that others must also extract value if they are going to enhance the platform in meaningful ways. And for every platform that means use, as they live and die on the strength of the size of their end user community.

It’s also a competitive approach against other platforms that trades co-operation and revenue opportunities for developers in exchange for innovation and application richness that makes the whole ecosystem stronger relative to competitors on other platforms.

What’s more as developers make a commitment to a platform they find that their business’s become increasingly dependant on its success – turning them from opportunity seekers to advocates for the whole eco-system. This conversion is important for the expansion of the platform as each developer becomes a both a promoter into platform and feedback loop from their market into the platform for feature requirements.

Like every ecosystem there is a pecking order, and competition among players – but that healthy competition produces the applications and services that keep the platform solid.

Platforms are like biological systems – interdependent. Many parties must adopt (and adapt) to a platform approach for it to be successful.  As more join, which happens if the early entrants are successful, the ecosystem and platform grows. If conditions change, or major parts of the ecosystem fail the platform becomes vulnerable.

It’s the ability for platforms to harness large amounts of innovation and niche focus, all motivated by self interest, that makes platforms such a successful way for to small competitors to change the business landscape.

By sharing we all get richer.