Prediction 2011 - Platforms

Charlie Hoult

Charlie Hoult

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We thought it would start a useful debate if we put the spotlight onto digital trends that have evolved over the past months and will run into next year. If we're canny with our blogging, this could develop into the 12 days of Christmas - with a range of posts leading up to the New Year.

Then you can all make your New Year's Resolutions, too!

First up are Platforms. Lots of people have spent 2010 getting excited by Twitter. Before that, there was much talk of widgets. Widgets were little plug-ins or mini-programmes that sliced off part of your workload with a little tool. That all seems to have got blown away by the iPhone and talk of apps. But, these little apps are 'so 2010'. The New Year will bring more and more talk about big systems... now you've managed the little downloads, you need to migrate your life onto big platforms.

Wordpress used to be a little tool. But, that now seems to be a whole suite of tools for building websites. I started with my wordpress sites being encouraged to start one for free, with their site screaming at me to start immediately for free. Today, it's all about getting you to download the software and host it yourself.

And, Wordpress are fully embracing 'freemium' by offering me 'premium' plug-ins: I was pondering how I might build a holiday cottage site with Wordpress. Voila, as of November this year, the handy folk from Wordpress can sell me one for $119!

This talk of platforms has permeated the venture market, with the vulture capitalists flock getting excited about investing in platforms. Squarespace, for instance, received $38.5million in funding from Accel Partners and Index Ventures - and now has Jonathan Klein, founder of Getty Images, as chairman.

Of course, Facebook wants to be a platform, too. For a 40-something like me, I'm still dependent on email, don't have time to drill Twitter and couldn't get going with FourSquare (though it was in my 2010 HotShot list...!)... so the Facebook platform is slightly passing me by. But, check out their social media campaign on Facebook Platform and you'll see that it's only just ramping up in the last months. Wikipedia on Facebook Platform is getting updated all the time.

But, not only are the giants all going for platforms like it's the 1970s shoe of choice... even the skunkworks operators are squirrelling away with platforms to sell as fashion items for corporates in 2011. I bumped into the founders of digital agency DNA, that sold out to Razorfish a couple of years ago (great timing, lads!). They are now working on a platform for the British ad agency giant WPP, called True Worldwide. The way Neil Miller sold it to me, WPP want to build a big engine to sell to corporate clients so that all their internet action can be managed and captured at a single point - with big corporates wanting to leave all the plumbing to a team of experts so that, if you are a multinational, you can maintain consistency (and cost control) by hammering one band of experts... rather than trying to organise the chaos of different operating teams having a go in their own territory. The only time I met Martin Sorrell, he talked about metrics and analytics... the True project looks like it will deliver that for WPP clients. And with data comes a lock-in... not that anyone would ever want to lock in their clients, eh!?

Look at Playfish... another platform-play. They possibly started all the talk of platforms with their $400m exit to game giant EA. Then, look at the likes of Oil Productions, who are trying to follow. Or, even Murdoch and paywalls... 

For me, I always like to look at the business fundamentals. The business model here is what I call 'owning the drawbridge': to get into or out of the castle, you need to use the drawbridge. The guard on the gate is the one who knows everything about the traffic and could make a killing if he charged every person a penny to cross. What Shrek and Donkey know is that they'd only pay to get into a really good castle... which leads onto another Prediction 2011 - Content.