From Grid Computing, to the less tangible Network Effect and the development of the Web Services stack - there are numerous examples of the evolution of the internet into a global, distributed computing platform.
Web 2.0, is perhaps the most interesting subset of this emerging phenomenon in that previously disconnected web services are being lashed together, not using the complex web services stack, but lightweight XML and HTTP interfaces. Services which offer not only a compelling user experience, but a developer-friendly platform experience seem to represent the most vibrant, innovative and successful interactive services.
The most visible examples include:
- Amazon - a platform ranging from affiliates to web services, covering eCommerce tools, product catalogies and the A9 search service.
- Blogger, SixApart & Technorati - offer APIs to integrate blogging services with third parties.
- Bloglines - A collection of services for RSS caching, notification and syndication.
- BBC Backstage - Access to content feeds, EPGs and BBC Search.
- del.icio.us - Web-based bookmarks.
- eBay Developer's Programme - a rich software development kit for Windows, Java and web development.
- Flickr - A very rich API for photo management, social networks, groups and photo-blogs.
- Google - A continually evolving API for search services, advertising and now geographical data for Google Maps.
- MapPoint - Microsoft's web-based platform for location-based services.
- MusicBrainz Tagger - The Tagger service identifies and tags music files with user-contributed metadata.
- PayPal Developer Network - Extending micropayment and eCommerce services to any website.
- Skype Developer Zone - Complete set of APIs and tools for VoIP services along with a certification programme.
- Yahoo Developer Network - Photos, maps, music, syndication and search services for developers.
Each of these platform providers enables the operator to amplify the utility of their business by leveraging the innovation of the developer community...new value is constantly created, remixed and shared by platform owners, users and developers alike...ironically, a very Microsoft model. Though, these listed services represent a small cross-section of Web 2.0, they have given rise to a cottage industry of niche services. Some, like eBay, contributing double-digit growth to the platform operator. Indeed, the ready supply of derivative and innovative applications intersects boldly with France Telecom's proposed convergent services (telephony, photoblogging, music, location-based services...)
The combination of Firefox's Greasemonkey extension, coupled with the proliferation of RSS syndication and taggable content is now enabling content and services with no public API to also be brought into the sphere of remix-able web services - further lowering the barriers to adoption. Coupled with increasing demands for sharable, personalised user experiences - this brings to the fore important questions for telcos.
- Should France Telecom, Orange, Equant and Wanadoo offer platform businesses to users and developers?
- Do platform businesses:
- Encourage growth?
- Increase the pace of innovation?
- Re-intermediate MNOs, telcos and ISPs
- Does France Telecom have a choice?
The 'telco-as-platform' will certainly be an interesting hypothesis to explore as the struggle to move beyond simply being a data-pipe intensifies.