Graphic Summary by Symbionomics at http://worldbridgerdesign.com/Droppings/symbionomics/images/pattern_cards/platforms.png
1. JP Rangaswami:
"When I speak of platforms, I tend to speak of open adaptive constructs that allow people to layer value around and “on top of” the foundation. As stated before, platforms come in many forms, shapes and sizes. A closed platform is likely to evince linear growth at best, as postulated in Sarnoff’s Law. More open platforms are capable of supporting geometric or exponential growth, initially quadratic, as in Metcalfe’s Law, and then tending towards exponent values greater than 2, as in Reed’s Law. The principle is the same: the more open the platform is, the more likely it is that relationships and interactions between platform participants will create new and differentiated value." (http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2013/01/06/on-platforms-and-sharing/)
2. John Hagel:
"Platforms are governance mechanisms that reduce the cost and effort of connecting a great number of participants. They give businesses and individuals as-needed access to each other, and to information and resources. Those that function most effectively have protocols that determine who can participate, what roles they play, how they interact, and how disputes are resolved. Other protocols and standards facilitate connection, coordination, and collaboration.
In one sense, platforms are nothing new. If we define them as infrastructures that impose standards on a system in which multiple entities operate for their own gains, then clearly railway systems (standardized on track gauge), phone systems (sharing cables), and shipping industries (which use standardized containers) count as a platforms.
In the digital era, though, the notion of platforms has expanded beyond physical and technological specifications, and even beyond shared data standards. Instead, platforms often become cornerstones of their respective ecosystems, virtual locations for industry, community, competition, and connection. Some companies view platforms as means to improve performance (by letting them focus on what they do best) or grow their footprints (leveraging capabilities that once would have been owned). Others use them to support extended innovation, giving them access to a wide range of talented partners, contractors, and businesses outside their employment." (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/evolving-power-learning-platforms-john-hagel)
John Hagel on Four common types of platforms:
Most of today’s business platforms fall into four main types:
- Aggregation platforms, such as eBay, Etsy, and Airbnb, bring together an array of resources, connecting participants with the best fit.
- Social platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, aggregate and connect people.
- Mobilization platforms, from open-source software platforms to the Arab Spring movement, take common interests beyond connection, moving people to act together toward common professional, social, or political goals.
- Learning Platforms bring participants together to share insights—and, more importantly, to work together to come up with entirely new insights and practices. They foster deep, trusting long-term relationships that help realize potential through working and learning together."
The simplest way that platforms enable sharing is by helping people communicate with each other. The traditional post and telegraph companies, forerunners to the modern telcos, are classic communications platforms. All you need is a directory, some way to look up who’s there. If possible, you can reduce the cost of searching through the directory by grouping/sorting, in alphabetical, regional, functional, whatever. When directories were analog this was very important, but now with digital search capabilities this is less so. Nevertheless, the ability to form groups and to have those groups discoverable is important.
Telco 1.0 was about enabling primarily voice-based means of communications (though telegraph played a part for a while). Directory updates were analog and annual, grouping capabilities only available to the directory publisher. Telco 2.0, led by Microsoft, added e-mail to the functionality, and with that form of messaging allowed the scheduling of events to become reality. Telco 3.0, led by Facebook, made all this real-time, available as a feed, and with exposure of APIs to make it a real platform.
Once you have a platform that allows simple social interaction, the next simple thing is to enable sharing of digital things. Photographs. Documents. Music. Film. Blog posts. Smaller blog posts. Micro blog posts. No surprise why we all spent time going through all this, with the consequent impact on traditional analog intellectual property structures.
The value was not just in the sharing of the digital object per se, but in making that object “social”, as people like Jyri Engestrom reminded us. By allowing people to participate, new forms of value emerged. Everything could be tagged: folksonomies emerged, new ontologies and taxonomies could be formed, more flexible and more adaptive than their predecessors. Discovery of the object became easier.
It went beyond the tagging and labelling. Everything could be rated or reviewed. In fact even the rater or reviewer could be rated or reviewed. So the next stage of value came from participant ratings (as in eBay) reviews (as in Amazon) comments (as in blog posts).
There was an obvious next step: lists. Top 5s, top 10s, favourites, whatever. So that became the next basis for adding social value.
And then of course you needed a way to share the tags, the comments, the reviews, the ratings, the lists, with a larger group of people. So we saw more ways of publishing come to the fore, with Tumblr and Twitter. But unlike the past, the growth in participants did not need to arrive at spam. Because these new publish mechanisms came with new subscribe mechanisms. Pub-sub was here to stay.
All that was phase 1: the sharing of digital objects, the facility for participants to enhance those objects with comments and feedback, and the capacity to publish or distribute the enhanced objects.
From that point platforms have continued to evolve in at least two ways: allowing people to build platforms themselves (by exposing infrastructure and software and data as services); moving to engaging with analog objects, not just digital (where now only the icons and labels of the shareable things were shared within the electronic community). Sharing physical inventory became valuable, with recent examples like Mealku and FlightCar as part of a category that includes kiva, airbnb and for that matter Mechanical Turk; they’re all exchanges where one person’s excess meets another’s scarcity, for a small fee. Sharing applications built on top of the platform is another step, which means the platform needs to offer APIs and some form of app store. WordPress, Discogs, Etsy, Minecraft, these are all examples of communities that can be built with APIs and apps.
Sharing also creates value by reducing waste: the growth of the 21st century scavenger
I want to emphasise this by sharing some recent examples that came across my radar screen, examples that excited me a lot : Mealku, which came to me via Jerry Michalski, and FlightCar, which came to me, I think, via Pat Phelan. I think of the two as identical. With Mealku, you get a chance to do what the New York Times called “making reservations for leftovers”: you have an excess of food prepared at home, and the platform allows you to get rid of that excess meaningfully. With FlightCar, you lend your car to others while it would normally have been parked at the airport waiting for your return, and they return it in time for you. I think Doc Searls will love it, it is so VRM. [Incidentally, I mentioned Jerry and Pat for a reason: they're perfect examples of how "social" improves filtering. They knew me, knew what I would be interested in, and were connected to me in ways that allowed them to share the information simply and meaningfully. Pat lives in a different country, hundreds of miles from me, but in the same timezone; Jerry lives eight timezones away. I've known both for years. We see each other reasonably often, but our primary interactions tend to be digital.]
Resource scarcity is a reality for us now. We’re already facing challenges with energy, water and minerals, and there’s more to come. Reducing waste is no longer a nice-to-have option. So services that allow us to match one person’s excess with another’s shortage are going to become more and more important. When I was a child in India I remember being told that every day, the USA throws out enough food to feed Canada. I have no idea whether that’s true, I haven’t been able to verify it. But anecdotally it appears to make sense.
There’s a lot of research that’s already been done on how scavengers and rag-and-bone men and their ilk were part and parcel of city ecosystems in the past. Those were all about physical cities, bounded by physical spaces. Now those constraints have gone, with a new dimension of freedom added: the concept of renting scavengeable inventory. Borrow my car while it’s in the car park. Eat my leftovers. It’s an exciting area, disrupting many markets, and allowing for new forms of intermediary to form and thrive.
All this sharing creates Big, Small and Open Data
Big Data is by itself nothing new. We’ve had distributed devices for decades, collecting transactional information, and allowing for pattern analysis through aggregation and visualisation. The credit card is a classic example.
As we moved from small numbers of dumb devices to somewhat larger numbers of smart devices, the changes that took place were at least twofold. One, we moved from transactions to conversations and activity streams to intention signals: the “tense” of the activity stream moved from past to present to future-as-well-as-past-and-present. And two, this information came wrapped in metadata about time and place and actor and anything else the sensor could “lay hands on”: altitude, temperature, rainfall, friends present, devices used, ambient conditions, whatever.
There was a third change, a material change. We started involving people by connecting them. A whole new world, no longer machine to machine. Lots of data. Lots and lots of data. You’ve heard the similes. They go something like “In year X the world had a total of Y data. Today we add that in two days.”
What’s important is that we understand that there are at least three types of data from a platform perspective. Aggregated forms that allow us to act as groups or be understood as acting in groups. Drilled down forms that allow us to act as individuals, or to be understood as acting individually. And conventions, definitions, labels, part numbers, classifications that allow us to have meaningful aggregations or drilldowns.
Both Big Data as well as Small Data come in open and closed forms.
We understand the value of the Big and the Small, but we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the Open. [And that's something I will dwell on in later posts].
Machines filter. It takes a human to curate
By now most of you have probably come across the kind of problems of an algorithm-driven world. If you haven’t done so already, check out Kevin Slavin’s TED talk on the subject. Similarly, you’ve probably understood most of what is there to understand about the benefits and risks of filter bubbles. If you haven’t done so already, you should hear Eli Pariser’s TED talk on the subject. And speaking of TED talks, I guess my whole philosophy about all this can be understood in what Sugata Mitra had to say, also in a TED talk, this time on education.
Mitra said “A teacher who can be replaced by a computer should be replaced by a computer”.
So it is with all of us in all our walks of life, as knowledge workers or traffic wardens or surgeons or rocket scientists. There are things that we do that can be replaced by computers. And they should.
And then there are things that can’t be replaced by computers. Those are the things we should concentrate on.
Technology is best when serving us, when our actions are augmented by the tools.
The enterprise context: everything starts with the customer
If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you probably know I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the enterprise, and about how information lives within and beyond the enterprise.
Open adaptive platforms, underpinned by robust social networks, aided and abetted by strong analytical capabilities, are here to stay. They’re some of the reasons I joined salesforce.com in 2010, convinced by the importance of the multitenant model, the platform and Chatter.
The traditional lock-ins for customers have disappeared in most markets, making the loyal customer a scarcity. Understanding customer engagement has become an imperative. Not just how the company engages with the customer. But, more importantly, how the customer engages with the company or companies. So it is no surprise that the focus on investment has moved from traditional back-off systems to “front-office”.
But there is a subtler change. Customers are also investing in “systems”, platforms that simplify their engagement with the business world at large. How they identify themselves (login, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). How they share their personal information. Who their friends and advisors and recommenders are. What devices they’d like to use. How they’d like to pay. Their preferences in terms of devices, approach to contracting (no contract versus term, prepaid, pay monthly, the lot), approach to payment (card, PayPal, Square, Amazon Payments, etc).
Those “systems” are often based on services provided by platforms, and companies must now build services that take those systems and services into account." ((http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2013/01/06/on-platforms-and-sharing/))
We Need Design Guidance for Positive Platforms
"The design of “Positive Platforms” — platforms that not only maximize profits for their owners but also provide dignified and sustainable livelihoods for those who work on them, plus enrich society as a whole — is one of the most urgent tasks we are facing today.
Platform design choices should arise from understanding the experiences of people interacting with them, including consumers AND platform workers. This is exactly how the discipline of interaction design emerged — by studying people’s experiences with digital tools. To design Positive Platforms we need to gain understanding of actual experiences of people using them to make a living or to supplement their incomes. This is why last year we at the Institute for the Future engaged in ethnographic research involving people who are working on platforms in different locations across the United States — San Francisco, New York, Miami, Chicago, and elsewhere. We wanted to understand the variety of their perspectives and immerse ourselves in their vocabulary. Study participants were recruited with two criteria in mind: the degree of engagement or time spent on platforms (from passively renting to working full-time) and degree of skill required (from Uber drivers to those working on HourlyNerd)." (https://medium.com/the-wtf-economy/design-it-like-our-livelihoods-depend-on-it-e1b6388eb752#.s40t0ip2q)
Ambiguity of the Concept
"In an incisive article on the subject last year, Tarleton Gillespie analyzed how the word “platform” was used by major players like Flickr, YouTube, and Google. (I mentioned his article previously but will summarize the thesis here.) In the article, he points out the contradictory ways the companies use the term as part of a rhetorical strategy to serve their interests. On the one hand, as platforms they argue for limits to legal liabilities for actions of their users. On the other, as a platform of opportunity for advertisers, they define and enforce restrictions on users’ speech and activities. He concludes “the discourse of the ‘platform’ works against us developing such precision, offering as it does a comforting sense of technical neutrality and progressive openness.”
However, as we consider how to apply innovating online technologies for community engagement or governance activities, talk of ‘platforms’ can be troubling from another point of view as well.
Discussions of sociotechnical systems argue humans are just as important as the technical artifacts. An extensive literature on usability and systems development has developed a nuanced understanding of any system as a composite of technical and social components. As a simple example, what an expert user can do with a laptop is much different than what a grandparent can do upon first receiving one. In a larger case one theorist argues “the remarkably low accident rates in commercial air transport, for example, reflect the success of vigilant organizations, legal apparatus, and social learning about accidents as much as the demonstrate the quality of aircraft design and maintenance.” Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating discussion of air safety in Outliers describes how improving air safety often entails new social rules, such as banning idle chatter in the cockpit during key times, not simply technical ones.
Just as it obscures the internal tensions between different interests, the term “platform” alienates us from this more contextual view of technology. We often jump to the position that solving the problem entails designing the platform, implying it is a neutral system equally usable by any visitor. In reality, according the theory proposed here, solving any problem involves modifying or creating both social and technical components. We are dimly aware of a first-mover advantage in a “space,” but much less aware of the process of creating a useful system. In fact, social construction theory argues technologies are mutually constructed between system designers and engineers and users. Internet “platforms” such as Facebook and Twitter are both powerful independent companies, and in a subtle dialog with their users about how their systems should evolve. The simplest examples are how Twitter has incorporated hashtags and @ tweets into their technical architecture, and Facebook has gone through a well-publicized dance about how to manage the news feed, privacy settings, and even whether you can delete your account.
Of course, this links directly to broader debates about the merits (and measurement) of investments in physical versus social infrastructures. Although it can never be fully resolved, the purpose of the post is to temper technical enthusiasm with a more nuanced view of the origin and evolution of a new category of sociotechnical systems: online platforms." (http://goodspeedupdate.com/2011/3164)
- The Politics of Platforms. Tarleton Gillespie.