Of Mafia World, Platforms and App Developers [Get Entrepreneurial]

It’s a mafia world out there. Early this decade, there were parallel mafias – one of OS sellers [MS vs Apple] and the other of mobile phone companies (and ofcourse operators which still exists).

As devices converge, the mafias have gone bigger and the only one that exists today are from the stables of Apple, Microsoft, Google and Nokia.

Few players, like Motorola have already aligned themselves to one of the ‘gangs’, while the incompetent ones are left behind (Yahoo/Aol/Palm).

What has mafia got to do with Mobile Platform?

Recently, there was an uproar among Twitter developer ecosystem when Twitter acquired Tweetie, an independent iPhone app and made it free to download. Essentially, an official app (and free) from Twitter simply means that all of the other apps competing for user wallet simply do not stand a chance.

Similarly, Apple announced tighter control over the development environment  i.e. the recent SDK agreement that Apple released that blocks Flash developers from iPhone.

Mafia and Platform Economy
Mafia and Platform Economy

If you are a developer, you have all these mafias in front of you. Who do you want to go ahead with?

Filling a Hole vs. Creating a (W)hole

Twitter investor, Fred Wilson suggested developers that they should stop filing hole in the platform ecosystem and instead should build better apps.

Much of the early work on the Twitter Platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product. It is the kind of work General Computer was doing in Cambridge in the early 80s. Some of the most popular third party services on Twitter are like that. Mobile clients come to mind. Photo sharing services come to mind. URL shorteners come to mind. Search comes to mind. Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience.

What Fred suggests is very simple – build a completely new experience on top of Twitter, instead of filling feature gaps.

In essence, build more commercial apps that add more value to the users and initiates more transactions (i.e. add unique value to the platform as well as users)

Are Platforms Taking Cue from Apps?

It will be completely wrong to say NO.

Platform owners like WordPress, Twitter do take a lot of cue from some of their popular apps. Look at WordPress – some of their plugins do fill holes in the platform.
Functionalities that were present in some of the plugins are being released as new feature, thereby killing the plugin/app. Take the case of WP-auto upgrade, an immensely successful plugin that lost out to the platform (almost) when WP provided an inbuilt feature to achieve the same.

Similarly, Facebook pretty much killed all the apps that added marginal value to its features (like Wall/SuperWall) by launching something bigger and better.

So where does that leave developers with? You build an app, make it popular, the platform gets a sense of ‘what users want’, triages it and then builds the damn thing on its own.

The key to realize this is to figure out What is it that Platforms will not get into?

Will Facebook get into social gaming? But will they get into virtual currencies?

Will Twitter launch app for social media agencies? Will Twitter get into social gaming?

The answer to these questions are as hazy as a startup business, where the whole market definition or understanding of competition is somewhat known and largely unknown. Where future is uncertain, but what you are supposed to do is to take an insightful shot [and not just to fill a hole, i.e. shoot for low hanging fruits]. What one needs to realize is that in a way, they are competing with the platform as well.

From now onwards, platform developers need to be more entrepreneurial (and less of developers), now that there are new mafias each having its own rules and restrictions.

So stop going after low hanging fruits and instead figure out ‘Is there a Business Model for my App?

What’s your opinion?

Must Read: 6 things to know for a Mobile apps developer