Platform

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Definition

By Marc Andreessen:

" a "platform" is a system that can be reprogrammed and therefore customized by outside developers -- users -- and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform's original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.

In contrast, an "application" is a system that cannot be reprogrammed by outside developers. It is a closed environment that does whatever its original developers intended it to do, and nothing more." (http://blog.pmarca.com/2007/06/analyzing_the_f.html)


2. From the Barcelona City Sharing Cities report:

"Platforms are co-productive and deliberative platforms for the exchange of ideas and knowledge between citizens, scientists, policymakers and the rest of stakeholders. Platforms are developed by institutions or organizations (sometimes by the government) to create and support a network (online and offline), that interrelates the social, political and economic dimensions; they have the potential to be a means for experimentation and application of innovative tools. Platforms facilitate the production and dissemination of practical knowledge through different channels, and can also be a training medium. The frequent online and offline interaction of all actors brings together different perspectives and ensure discussion of complex subjects (trying to overcome thinking in isolation).

Face-to-face meetings are usually carried out through workshops which, according to Kaaronen (2016), are an effective way to make policy recommendations and, at the same time, bring cognitive and social benefits, by focusing on building trust and skills (Kaaronen, 2016). One of the challenges of some of these platforms, especially those of the FLOSS type (whose management and maintenance depends on a collective), is to achieve a continuity in the time that allows formulation of sustainable public policies; without jeopardizing their political neutrality by being funded by pressured third parties (in Kaaronen, 2016; Zamparutti et al., 2012)" (http://www.share.barcelona/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/SharingCities_book.pdf)

Discussion

By George Zarkadakis:

"Not all platforms are created equal. In the 1990s and early 2000s, you’d ‘browse the web’ and encounter an anarchic, open space of chat rooms and internet forums, where everyone had reasonably equal standing in competing for interest and attention. In the second phase of the internet, though, these spaces were replaced by closed, proprietary services administered by the big four tech companies: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. Users migrated towards those platforms for reasons of efficiency and convenience, which created the tech oligopolies we see today. But those businesses are centralised and owned by a precious few, and the implications are profound. Consumers’ data can be unscrupulously exploited for profit and influence. Developers must abide by rules set by the corporate bosses – and those rules can change at any time, unpredictably, to suit the special interests of a few. In other words, the competitive field of the internet is no longer level but profoundly skewed towards the tycoons that own the digital platforms where we conduct much of our daily lives.

Platforms don’t only reinvent how companies engage with their users, but also how work is done. As digital technologies deconstruct jobs into tasks executed by a mix of humans and algorithms, anxiety is growing about the ‘gig economy’ – where work is temporary, skills-based, and on-demand. Whether you are a driver for Uber, a financial analyst contracted via Upwork, or a software developer micro-tasking in Google’s or Amazon’s development framework, your livelihood depends on cyclical fluctuations of demand for your skills, your rating, and your ability to market yourself effectively against the competition. Moreover, residual profits go back to the owners of the platform, who are no longer obliged to provide participants with the protections associated with employment. Add in the threat of automation and artificial intelligence, and the outcome is a survival-of-the-fittest scenario, where only the most ruthless and capable stand a chance.

Even the ‘platforming’ of companies with ‘proper’ employees can clash with human nature. Zappos, the digital shoe and clothing shop currently owned by Amazon, employs around 1,500 people and sells an estimated $3 billion worth of products every year. In 2013 it began implementing a system known as ‘holacracy’, a self-organisation method invented by a software engineer. Instead of pyramidal hierarchies, holacracies are organised around ‘circles’; each circle can encompass a traditional function (such as marketing) as well as other ‘subcircles’ that focus on specific projects or tasks. No one prevents workers from freely moving across subcircles in order to achieve their goals, because there are no managers to stand in the way. Instead, software enables collaboration and the performance of individuals and teams, while ‘tactical meetings’ allow for employees to provide feedback about how things are working, in a tightly circumscribed format.

Yet despite the flexibility and efficiency that holacracy promises, participants and observers have criticised the system for failing to accommodate the emotional needs of workers, and reducing humans to ‘programs’ that run on the operating system of digital capitalism. Similarly, Uber drivers report feeling less like humans and more like robots, manipulated by the app, telling them exactly what to do. By deconstructing jobs into tasks, and automating their allocation, the human workers of today risk being transplanted by actual software programs tomorrow. Is there a way to escape such a dystopian future?

A world where the working people can only hope, at best, to make ends meet as second-rate serfs to our digital overlords is not a certainty – especially if workers take control of the platforms for themselves.

This kind of bottom-up, self-organised business network is what Trebor Scholz, a professor at the New School in New York, calls ‘platform cooperativism’." (https://aeon.co/essays/workers-of-the-world-unite-on-distributed-digital-platforms)


Blockchain-Based Crypto-Networks as the New Platforms

By George Zarkadakis:

"After the free-for-all of the 1990s, and the consolidation of the 2000s, a new, third era of internet evolution is being ushered in by ‘cryptonetworks’. Such platforms are decentralised by nature. Participants purchase and consume tokens (or ‘crypto-coins’) for their transactions on the network, which reaches a settled consensus or record-book of those transactions without the need for a central authority. These two factors – tokens and consensus – result in a democratic and communitarian governance model that was previously impossible without the presence of a trusted third party. And significantly, participants have a right to exit the network whenever they wish by simply selling their tokens, or coins, or – in extreme cases – by ‘hard-forking’ the blockchain, adopting new rules for how to settle the ledger while leaving the old version unchanged.

Cryptonetworks show that it’s feasible for workers to self-organise and build their own platforms – where they are the bosses, income is distributed equitably, and profits and losses are shared. In this collectivist scenario, workers might decide that their mission is to safeguard jobs, offer health insurance or pension funds, and improve employees’ quality of life. The dynamics of tokens make the interests of the participants align around common aspirations and goals, since the appreciation of their tokens comes through the growth of the network.

We’re in the early days of cryptonetworks. They’re still plagued by serious technical shortcomings, notably scalability and performance. Blockchains cannot, at present, process the huge number of transactions that centralised software systems can; and for technical reasons, the amount of energy it takes to secure a transaction on the blockchain increases over time." (https://aeon.co/essays/workers-of-the-world-unite-on-distributed-digital-platforms)


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