Fred Wilson's post Every Product is a Platform concludes with this intriguing insight:
When we look at web businesses to invest in, we think hard about the API. What could it be used for? What new services could it open up? When the API is even more exciting than the .com, that's a big deal to me.
Cool. It's not just the API though. As I've written previously about platforms a developer is going to ask five fundamental questions:
- How big is the opportunity?
- How easy is it for me to get started?
- How easy is it for me to participate?
- How and where do I find the information I need?
- How long will it take?
These questions translate into working through some or all of the following checklist:
- Is there an Extensible platform
- published API’s
- rich, easy-to-use developer tools
- well written, clear and concise documentation with examples including sample code
- Developer resources, including support team, knowledge-base, bug reporting and support forums.
- Is there an Existing Customer Base ?
- How large and approachable is the community of users? It has to be big enough to provide a realizable revenue opportunity for the developer!
- Does this Enable lots of developers ?
- Are there others? Existing Developers working on parallel, vertical or horizontal applications
- Are there mechanisms for monetization? For example, is there a real business in building MySpace widgets?
- Are there well defined Opportunities for Co-Marketing, Cross-Marketing, and Cross-Promotion?
- Are there any Success Stories?
I love platforms, but a platform without a customer base isn't a business.