December 02, 2005

Discussion on Mashups as viable business models

Started? Geeking with Greg: Can Web 2.0 mashups be startups?

And my original comment :

I think you're [Greg] sort of right - in the literal sense. But may be missing the bigger picture.

A lot of web-services are built on (and dependent on) somebody else's web thing. Search engines are a classic example : "how could THAT work? How can Google trust that people won't delete or change the contents of their pages that Google went to so much trouble to index? Isn't the value in the pages themselves, not something as ephemeral as links?"

In the real economy, an awful lot of people act as brokers or middle-men between two sources of value, and they DO (apparently) add yet more.

Mashups certainly add value that doesn't exist in either of the original sites. The only question is a) whether there's a business model, and b) whether the mashup is unethically parasitic.

A lot of mashups have no business model and are done for fun. But that doesn't mean that there can't be something mashup-like that became a huge business.

Now Greg thinks Web 2.0 is mashups.

Jeremy Zawodny asks a classic question (by way of mashing the meme with another one, about markets) :

I claim that these two discussions are actually related by the notion of a platform.

The platform is what you must build today in order to create a new on-line market. To be clear, the process goes something like this:

  1. Build new "open" platform

  2. Get critical mass (this is where mashups start to come in)

  3. Add financial incentives, creating a marketplace

  4. Profit!

That leads me to ask the only unasked question so far. In the Internet of 2006, what's it mean to be (or create) a "platform"? What is a platform? Is one necessary to create a new marketplace online?

What do you think, based on the evidence we've seen so far?

(My emphasis)

Once you start thinking in terms of platforms, then mashups are just applications. We're in the realms of the architecture of participation.

But it's a tricky question. Here are a couple of thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for a while :

  • a platform is based on an AddressableThings. You build a platform by finding something in the world that people care about, and allowing them to reliably refer to it by either :

    • a) assigning it a UID (eg. when it was uploaded to my server, we put a barcode on this lobster) or

    • b) finding some other reliable identifier (I can talk about books using an externally defined ISBN number, I can talk about this person using FOAF (which hashes the email address), I can talk about place using GPS coordinates.)

    Note 1 : I guess tagsonomy means you don't have to give a perfect reference to one individual. A trustworthy way of finding eg. pictures usually of "this type" is OK.

    Note 2 : Can't you just see those VCs reading Strawson and Kripke? :-)

  • Once you can refer to something, it can become the subject of a conversation between people. (Some conversations are, of course, markets)

  • In tech. terms. Conversations are interoperability. Which can procede without pairwise co-ordination, and where ideally the intelligence is at the edges.

  • In conversations, you have to listen. Everyone who thinks about building a platform emphasizes the rights of the stakeholders : the application builders and the users. If you don't listen, application builders and users don't talk to you.

OK, that's not very coherent. But it's a start. More refinements of this discussion to come.

(Bonus question re: advertising markets : How come all the cool companies are encouraged to use viral, word-of-mouth, gonzo marketing - because word spreads so easily on the internet, but the advertising market is set to keep growing?)
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