In my podcast with Ed Iacobucci about DayJet’s approach to reinventing air travel, Ed recalls the moment when he knew that the Eclipse VLJ (very light jet) represented the hardware component of a new platform. His contribution would be to create the operating system that would enable new travel applications.
I think I am beginning to develop an aversion to the term platform.
When I read that, I said to myself: “Yeah, me too.”
Marc’s post defines three levels of platform:
- Flickr-style data-access APIs.
- Facebook-style containers of “Internet plug-ins.” While hosted by their container, these plug-in applications must also provide their own life support.
- Ning-, Salesforce-, and Second Life-style runtime environments that fully support their dependent applications.
As both Antonio and Joshua point out, Marc’s level 3 runtime leads to the sort of lock-in scenario that developers have learned to regard with suspicion. Antonio pushes back on Marc’s characterization of Amazon’s S3 and EC2 as “only sort of” a level 3 platform. Facebook alone may be a level 2 platform, he says, but in combination with Amazon’s neutral infrastructure it already reaches level 3. And of course Amazon’s services can recombine with other level 2 platforms to yield other level 3 platforms.
Joshua, meanwhile, questions the need for levels 2 and 3. He thinks that Marc’s base platform — the data flowing at level 1 — has potential we’ve scarcely begun to realize. I agree. Syndication-oriented architecture surely has limitations, but we haven’t run into them yet.
It’s also worth noting that Marc’s taxonomy is wholly cloud-centric:
I think that kids coming out of college over the next several years are going to wonder why anyone ever built apps for anything other than “the cloud” — the Internet — and, ultimately, why they did so with anything other than the kinds of Level 3 platforms that we as an industry are going to build over the next several years.
I’ll go along with that, but only if we can extend our definition of the cloud to encompass what the Internet originally was: a network of peers. With rare but notable exceptions (e.g. BitTorrent) it hasn’t been that for a long time. I think it will be that again. There’s a level 4 platform waiting in the wings. At level 4, the cloud of storage and computation is partly centralized in a handful of intergalactic clusters, and partly distributed across a network of humble peers. Microsoft’s forthcoming Internet service bus is one example of a level 4 platform. I hope, and expect, we’ll see others.