A brief review of both present day and, the past twenty years or so of technology, repeatedly reveals one stark observation: the big winners are, often times, the best platform plays.
This post says the following: LinkedIn helped define the professional networking space, and yet today it faces the real risk of long term irrelevance as Facebook becomes the social networking platform of choice for professional networkers. Like Nick O’Neil, nearly all my professional networking requests lately have come through Facebook, and although in many ways LinkedIn provides a more focused business networking tool, its niche to Facebook’s broader offering has become its weakness.
LinkedIn is a great product and a networking/referral tool that continues to evolve nicely over time. But, the Facebook, which appears to have taken a major leap forward recently with its developer integration efforts, is rapidly becoming THE social utility and network platform of choice in an overly saturated environment. So, the niche play gets swallowed up by the larger platform.
Here are other stark examples of companies becoming the dominant platform in a particular area of technology:
- Microsoft: Windows emerged as THE computing platform of choice particularly with the release of a more advanced GUI system with Windows ’95. Microsoft became synonymous with the way one navigated their computer.
- Amazon: I’ve struggled to understand the true core competency of Amazon until recently when I began using its Associates program for Affiliate links. I couldn’t determine whether the company was a tech play or a retail play…that sold just about everything online under the sun. And then, recently, I figured out while watching their continually well performing stock that they have become THE online retail platform and, in so doing, are hugely valuable.
- Google: At the end of the day, I imagine Google defines its ambitions and value these days as being THE internet platform. The emergence of tools like Google Maps, Reader, Gmail and Blog Search bring one back to Google day after day.
- Apple: Apple has been around and has been well regarded for a long time but is now, generally stated, experiencing its greatest moment of time. It has emerged as THE digital media platform. As itunesU, the iPhone and other innovations continue in the months and years ahead, it’s likely to see that position and platform achievement solidifying even more.
- Blackboard: A lesser known company compared to most of the others above but an 800-pound platform gorilla in the education space. The company’s acquisition of WebCT in 2005 established them as THE player online in educational technology as it relates to users accessing relevant coursework information. It’s position is made even stronger these days through its efforts in the commerce area where college students, at schools around the country, use Blackboard powered debit cards for purchasing goods ranging from late-night snacks to textbooks.
Yahoo, who was once likely to be mentioned on a list such as the above, is presumably struggling in part because they are no longer a major platform play for anything.
For the entreprenuers creating new ventures out there, the notion of platform establishment should be front and center in the mind and business plan. And, if the plan doesn’t call for platform achievement in some manner, or doesn’t realistically achieve the goal in a short period of time, selling what you’ve built to one of the larger platform plays becomes the most likely and desirable exit to consider.