Platforms here, platforms there - everyone's launching a platform it seems. Today's newest platforms, a content storage platform from Box.net and a content publishing platform from social network Bebo, are just the latest. Facebook, OpenSocial, Android - who can tell them all apart?
What is a platform? It's a technical welcome mat that allows developers from outside of a company tie their software to the software offering the platform. How's that for an explanation? Feel free to share your one-line explanation, too.
Each of the platforms above has a flavor and in order to clarify all the talk about platforms, I decided to make a chart. These are the things I look at when trying to understand where a new platform lies in the landscape. All of this is so new that it's hard to know how to compare them for sure, but I think most of the following is from a user's perspective. It's also mostly prediction as almost none of these platforms are live yet. These comparison charts are always a challenge, and they're usually pretty subjective - but please let me know of any details I've gotten wrong and I'll correct any mistakes.
The Google-lead but open-standards based initiative could be huge, or it could just be for cross-site widget publishing. It's all about the applications, it appears so far. It is open to any participant and many companies are announcing that are building apps that leverage OpenSocial to travel freely from one social networking site to the next.
Developers will build apps that can be published on any OpenSocial supporting site, like MySpace, LinkedIn or Bebo. For more analysis see our post on concerns about OpenSocial. For a more indepth introduction, see Jeremiah Owyang's post Explaining OpenSocial to Your Executives.
The original platform, at least as far as this wave in concerned. It's a walled garden application-wise, those apps aren't going anywhere but Facebook. Anyone can create a Facebook app, they can pull content in from offsite but cannot publish offsite and it's not really about cross site identity, either. The Facebook app platform is pretty limited, really, and those who treated its arrival like a divine act are liable to feel silly shortly.
Google's open mobile OS was just unveiled to the developers of the world and probably only belongs on this list because it's a platform that's open to anyone. Otherwise it's like apples and oranges - hard to compare with the other platforms here.
Online storage startup Box.net released today some limited access to their new platform, OpenBox. OpenBox will in time let any application access your media content stored at Box.net. It's not as ambitious in scope as the other platform plays, but it might prove to be one of the most utilitarian. This platform makes me think of an Amazon web service, but direct to consumers. For more in-depth coverage of today's announcement from Box.net see Josh Lowensohn's post on the platform.
Bebo is big in the UK and New Zealand but readers from elsewhere may not think much of it. None the less, its userbase is substantial (40 million) and today Bebo announced a platform of its own. It's called Open Media but it doesn't appear terribly open. It looks like a white listing of professionally produced, big media content. While it won't get nearly as much hype as some of the other platforms, and perhaps is only loosely deserving of the platform title - it's probably going to be another very smart move for this growing social network. If you've got users and you're making money, who needs geek hype?
Note that MySpace isn't included here, but they appear determined to continue developing their own platform in addition to participating in OpenSocial. It will be interesting to see if they do anything that pushes the envelope.
I hope that this brief comparison will prove helpful in comparing these darned platforms. They are popping up like weeds, so I'm sure this list will seem woefully short by the end of the week.
Platforms are good, standards are better - data portability is some peoples' ideal, others see superior service even in walled gardens as the ultimate goal. There's every reason to believe that more platforms are on the way, though.