Monday, April 12, 2010

Platforms and applications and tensions; Oh My

Much has been written and said over the past few months about the 'nefarious' intentions associated with three high profile conflicts. The Apple/Adobe rancor, Twitter's war with its developers over its acquisition of Tweetie and Google taking on its parters with the launch of its own Android powered phone.

Taking a step back, the presence of these debates signals a healthy and evolving ecosystem, fraught with turbulence, opportunity and danger. I really can't ascribe 'nefarious' intent to any of the actions taken. It's all about corporate self interest and fiduciary duty and far prefer this environment to a staid world which developers have abandoned. For example, I am sure that a once proud firm formerly at the center of such debates,Yahoo, would just love to recapture this type of caring attention.

Two decades ago, Microsoft showed us all how a drive for ubiquity in applications can be leveraged into a platform that offers value for users, partners and shareholders. When applications become ubiquitous (Facebook), they inevitably morph into platforms as supporting firms, usually with the cooperation of the platform owner, drive to fill in opportunities left vacant by the mothership. But danger lurks as the platform evolves, it consumes those who are too close to the ever shifting center. Twitter, showed that in spades last week with the acquisition of Tweetie. For now, I use Tweetdeck, who must unleash some great innovation to keep ahead of its former best friend for life.

Likewise, the Apple/Adobe debates are really not about optimizing user experience. It's really about legitimate corporate interests and has many twists and turns that were well documented in this blog post at Daring Fireball. I have a suspicion that if Adobe can show Apple how it's in their corporate interest to support Flash, then an accommodation will be reached. For now, the whining really is not an adequate substitute for good product management.

Dave Winer, who with Living Videotext knows these battles so well (here's a copy of the letter he posted where MSFT terminates their Letter of Intent, as they decided to buy his competitor, PowerPoint...full disclosure,I was involved in this transaction). He notes, and I agree, that the closest place in the software/web world you will find to a utopian world is in open source stacks. I am not here opining on what is better or worse, but I can't escape the reality that these stacks are usually ubiquity driven, without the profit incentive that drives self-interest to pitched conflict. Of course, (with apologies to Los Angeles) all is not LALA land in the open source world. Groups do pitched battle and debate rages, but common sense usually takes hold before mutual self destruction is assured.


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