Platform is hardware and software architecture that acts as foundation or base upon which other applications, processes, or technologies are developed. In computing, platform refers to basic hardware i.e., computer system and software i.e., operating system on which software applications are often run. An application also can serve as platform if it’s base for other programs. For instance, the web browsers that we use in our day to day life accept few third-party plugins, and hence browser application becomes platform for interfacing.
In recent times, almost every software enterprise builds some quite ‘platform’. Yet all platforms that are created aren’t same. Facebook, Amazon Web Services, Amazon Marketplace, Google Search, Android, Uber are all platforms, but at same time, these platforms are very different in how they create network effects, kind of interactions they allow, approaches they follow, strategies and other methods.
Now let us discuss the various types of platforms. They are :
- Utility Platforms :
Google Search, Bing, Kayak, Skyscanner are some examples of Utility Platforms. Utility Platforms attract their users by providing useful and also usually free service. Once there’s certain mass of users using service, platform opens to second sort of participants, like advertisers in case of Google Search, airlines in case of Kayak or Skyscanner. There is no network effect within useful service itself. Users attract businesses, but businesses on platform don’t necessarily attract users. We attend Google Search trying to find information, to not see ads.
- Content Distribution Platforms :
Google AdSense, PropellerAds, and Millennial Media are samples of Content Distribution Platforms. Such platforms connect owners with content who are wishing to deliver content (or ads) to users. More content available on platform, more attractive platform becomes. User reach and accuracy of content matching are two most important aspects of this platform.
- Data Harvesting Platforms :
Google Maps, Waze, Salesforce, OpenSignal, and InsideSales are some examples of Data Harvesting Platforms. These platforms offer useful services to users and generate data through usage of platform services. Data collected from all users of platform is fed back to service, thus making it more useful for users. Network effect on these platforms is connoted on data instead of users. Usage of platform service generates data, which in turn makes platform more valuable for users, which attracts more users, whose usage generates more data, and so on.
- Interaction Networks :
Facebook, WeChat, Telegram, Ello, and Bitcoin are some examples of Interaction Networks. These sorts of platforms facilitate interactions between specific participants (people and/or businesses). Digital interactions can be in form of message, voice call, image, or money transfer. Foundational characteristic of Interaction Networks is identity. All interactions on platform are ground to specific accounts. Users join platform to interact with other users, and thus first network effect is between users of platform. Users attract users, who attract more users. Thus, platform may be one-sided platform connecting participants of similar kind.
- Technology Platforms :
Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are some examples of Technology Platforms. Technology Platforms provide building blocks or services that are reused during sizable amount of products. Technology Platforms are not two-sided markets. Technology Platforms generate revenue by selling their services to developers and are typically invisible to top-level users (end users). For instance, while OTT’s like Netflix and Amazon Prime run its video streaming services on top of Amazon Web Services platform (AWS), top-level users interact solely with Netflix and Amazon Prime. In this type of platform, there are no implicit network effects. These platforms grow with favorable reception by developers and do not rely on interaction between demand side and supply side. As a result, Technology Platforms are much easier to launch than multi-sided or peer-to-peer platforms.
- Marketplaces :
Amazon, eBay, Flipkart, Kickstarter, or UpWork are some examples of Marketplaces. These are two-sided platforms connecting supply with demand. Marketplaces enable transactions between demand-side participants i.e., buyers, and supply-side participants i.e., sellers. In these platforms, prices of products and offered services are set by sellers. Network effect in Marketplaces is between demand-side participants and supply-side participants. Sellers attract buyers with exciting offers, who in turn attract more sellers, and so on. Identity plays secondary role in this platform. Buyers search for selected product or service but not for selected seller. Products or services are offered by multiple sellers who compete on price, reputation etc.
- On-demand Service Platforms :
Uber, DoorDash, Go-Mart, and Doz are samples of On-demand Service Platforms. These types of platforms offer end-to-end services to be fulfilled by group of independent service providers or contractors. On-demand Service Platforms incorporate processes of search, order, payment, fulfillment, and confirmation of service under one roof. Price, quality standards, and fulfillment processes are set and managed by platform. User or buyer usually has less freedom, in selecting how service will be delivered and by whom.
- Computing Platforms :
Apple iOS, Google Android are some examples of computing platforms. Computing Platforms render interactions between platform users and third-party developers. In Computing Platforms, connection between users and developers is established through an app store/marketplace. These platforms tend to develop strong bi-directional network effects once platform reaches certain mass of users. Users attract developers, developers make apps, apps attract users, and users attract developers, and so on.
- Content Crowdsourcing Platforms :
YouTube, Crackle, Twitch, and Yelp are some examples of Content Crowdsourcing Platforms. These types of platforms collect content from users in form of videos, blog posts, reviews, etc, and share this content with wide range of users. In Content Crowdsourcing Platforms users interact with platform and interaction is ground to content. Network effect is observed between content contributors i.e., creators, and content consumers i.e., viewers of platform. If more content is available on platforms, more content consumers will join platform making it more valuable for content contributors, who in turn generate more content.
Apart from the above Platforms, there are also eight types of Software Platforms :
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