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Archive for September 16th, 2007

Great Products Become Platforms

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 16, 2007

The VC in NYC says the best products become platforms at some point, but he doesn’t say why so much as he gives examples.  Being a reductionist at heart who agrees with his proposition, I wanted to delve into the Why? 

Think about what a platform is: a framework on which applications can be run.  Whose applications?  Applications produced by others–if you build all the applications for your platform, you don’t have a platform, you have a core product with a bunch of modules.  Let’s try it again:

A platform provides a framework on which applications written by others can be run.

Now we’re getting something.  Platforms encourage others.  Platforms are therefore also the essence of Web 2.0, which is all about collaboration.  By encouraging this behaviour, we are building a viral loop with lock-in into our product.  That drives not just traffic, but loyalty.  The loyalty comes from having invested in the platform, and from having seen reciprocal benefit in doing so.

Can a product be great without including a platform?  Yes, but it’s a lot harder for it to do so unless there is another mechanism to encourage viral adoption.  There are other such alternatives, the Web 2.0 demonstrates many, but none are quite so potent as a platform which enables others to invest more heavily in your success in order to further their own ends.

Can a platform be great without including a great product?  Yes, but it is much much harder.  The role of the great product is to provide the initial hook that gets a large enough audience interested in the product to make it worthwhile to invest in the platform.  We call that great product the “killer app” for the platform.  Unless the platform requires terribly little investment, why would you get involved with a platform that has no audience?  Only because it solves some problem you have so much more easily than solving it yourself that’s the platform itself becomes the best application.

Geoffrey Moore espouses a similar philosophy when he says:

The key thing to remember, however, is that an offer cannot present itself as a platform until it has achieved ubiquity of use as a product. 

Amusingly, in this case, he’s talking about movies and other media as platforms.  There is the opportunity for sequels merchandising and all the rest.  Harry Potter is very much a platform.  If the initial offering in the series isn’t fantastic, the platform isn’t worth much.  The first Harry Potter book made the platform viable.  He does go on to point out that you can jump start a platform without the awesome product by giving it away for free.

The morals to this story for product and platform strategists are:

1.  Make provision for a platform in your product.

2.  If your platform has no killer app, the cost of using it had better be almost nothing, and it had better solve a fairly difficult problem.

3.  Find a killer app for your platform.  If you have built a platform, consider building a killer app on top of the platform and giving it away to drive platform acceptance.

4.  If possible, launch the killer app before revealing there is a platform.  The platform audience will be much more receptive after seeing the killer app.

5.  Make provision to help any apps built on your platform to succeed by helping get the word out about them.  Preferably build the mechanisms for getting the word out into the platform itself so they are automatic.

Related Articles:

 My thoughts on Marc Adreesen’s model for platforms

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Posted in business, Marketing, platforms, Web 2.0 | 6 Comments »

Where’s the Love? (Viral Blogging, Part 1)

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 16, 2007

I recently came across a great post on building blog communities over at longstride.  You should go read it, but get ready for a little disappointment, because it doesn’t really tell you how to get love.  In this case, the article is lamenting that WordPress doesn’t do more to help bloggers collaborate with one another to form a more cohesive community.  It’s a shame really, because it isn’t that hard to do, and it just might be a killer feature for bloggers.  It isn’t just WordPress either.  The blogging platforms should all be looking into this.

It’s all about thinking deeper Web 2.0 thoughts.  Blogs are relatively Web 2.0 all by themselves–they facilitate collaboration by letting you comment or trackback.  They make it really easy for someone to have a soapbox from which to express themselves.  The Web 2.0 is all about getting involved.

But let’s think for a minute.  Those are pretty passive features.  How do we kick it up a notch?  To do that, we need to get much more back and forth between blogs.  That will really drive some traffic and a sense of community.  You’ll get to know more bloggers and hear their points of view.  My suggestions to WordPress and other blog outfits for how to accomplish this are really simple: increase awareness of other blogs and make it one button simple.

Increasing Awareness of Other Blogs and Making It One Button Simple

I don’t know about other bloggers, but I get a ton of inspiration reading blogs.  Many of my posts start out as this one did attributing the spark for that inspiration.  That’s a good thing, but wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a button (making it one button simple) that would find me all the other blog posts whose content is related to the article I’m writing?  So I can hit that button as I’m writing and get a list not unlike the Tag Surfer, but much more finely tuned to what I’m writing about at the moment. 

This “Find Related” button does two things.  First, it makes it easy for me to link to more blogs as I’m writing.  Second, I may just learn something while I’m writing that informs the article I’m writing.  It’s a research tool, in other words.  How many of you, like me, keep a Google Blog Search window handy at all times while this is happening?

Here’s another thought for those out there who build blogging platforms and like this idea:  break out of the blogosphere a little bit.  Make the Find Related button search a few more places such as  If you don’t want to insert the results inline, at least make it easy to get them.  Wikipedia is another great one I use all the time.

Speaking of Wikipedia, this brings me to my next one button gadget for bloggers.  We need a “needs a link” button.  The idea is I would mark text, hit the “Needs a link” button, and a couple things would happen.  First, a link would be established to the “Needs a link” results page.  This is just temporary (or maybe not, might be kewl to sometimes leave it that way).  That results page is just our old friend “Find Related” but focused on what I marked for the link.  In keeping with one button simplicity, I want to be able to take anything on the results page, hit a button next to it, and the spot in my blog article I had marked as needing a link will now point to that location.

Are you with me so far?  We’re making it tons easier to find related content in other people’s blogs and link to it.  Call the feature “Link Rocket” or some darned thing, I don’t care, I just want one to make my life easier.

Last thought.  Your article is all written, you’re happy with it, it has lots of splendid links and you’ve published it.  Now you still need to press “Find Related” one more time, this time for a published blog post you’ve written.  In that context, “Find Related” brings up its usual cast of suspects, and now it’s your job to go through those posts and see if there are any you’d like to comment on in light of your shared interest in what they’re talking about.  Of course if these are WordPress posts, you could comment right inline and let WordPress deal with it.

By the way, Technorati, you could provide some of this too.  Not quite as easily or as slickly as the owners of a blogging platform, but you could help out.  You need a way to help bloggers find “kindred spirits” based on their posts.  It would be cool to find kindreds for one post or for your whole blog’s flavor.

So what have we accomplished?  By implementing these features, we will have dramatically reduced the friction in the viral loop.  We make it easier to find one another, and to use the traditional blog tools of linkbacks and comments to close the loop.  If you like thinking along these lines, check out Andrew Chen who writes a lot about the Viral Loop.  There’s nothing evil about it, so long as you don’t abuse it.  It’s just trying to make it easier for folks to hook up.

Next installment, we’ll look further at the Blogger’s Viral Loop to see what else could be done.

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Posted in Marketing, user interface, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments »

Substitute Darwinism in an Absence of Good Data

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 16, 2007

I remember the first time I started thinking about Darwinian Selection or Darwinism for short (my term for making evolutionary processes and competition work for you) was during a conversation with Harvard Business Review Editor Tom Stewart.  We were discussing the problems of business and how they had changed in relatively recent times.  Stewart meets with lots of CEOs from companies of all sizes in all industries and all over the world.  When asked what were the problems facing companies today, one that he focused on was risk.  Stewart mentions that there are really two kinds of risk which I’ll call quantifiable risk and unquantifiable risk.  The business world has lots of tools for dealing with quantifiable risk.  If you’re willing to spend the money, you can purchase financial instruments that completely hedge away that kind of risk.  Quantifiable risk is what insurance companies are good at dealing with too.  Unfortunately, unquantifiable risk has very few tools available to help businesses even to think about it.

The nature of unquantifiable risk is that you really have no idea what the likelihood or magnitude of the risk might be.  There is no good data to be had in decisionmaking about unquantifiable risks.  What can you do in the face of unquantifiable risk?  Adopt Darwinism.  Place a lot of little bets, see which ones work, and then double down on what’s working.  But keep placing more bets as well, because most problems that suffer from unquantifiability are chaotic moving targets.  What worked today can stop cold tomorrow.  This is not unlike the strategy adopted by most investors with Modern Portfolio Theory wherein diversification saves you from having bet too much in the wrong place.  Many financial decisions involve unquantifiable risk. 

The success or failure of most marketing programs is not quantifiable in advance.  It’s simply too unpredictable.  You could find yourself with a program that’s completely ineffective, or you could luck into a program that drives huge traffic.  There are folks out there thinking about this from a portfolio management standpoint, which is exactly right.

Interestingly, adoption of a utility computing architecture that can scale up and scale down is a way of reducing the impact of the unquantifiable risk of web traffic on your hosting infrastructure.  Reducing the cost of failure is exactly what these strategies are all about.

Posted in Marketing, strategy | Leave a Comment »

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