Andreessen: “If you can program it, then it’s a platform. If you can’t, then it’s not.”

September 20, 2007 § 1 Comment

It’s not often that I disagree with Marc Andreessen, but his recent post on web platforms draws some pretty arbitrary lines. According to his definition of web platform, Craigslist, eBay, eLance and other web-based marketplaces are not web platforms, nor are any of the gazillion blogging platforms, not to mention payment platforms, video & photo sharing platforms, etc.

It’s no secret that Facebook’s recent explosive growth has in large part a result of their F8 platform, which allows outside developers to build applications using the Facebook API. Andreessen (a founder of Netscape, Loudcloud/Opsware, and most recently Ning, which allows users to make their own social networks) tries to clarify some of the resulting confusion surrounding the “platform” buzzword and describes three types of platforms that exist on the web but first states that, “If you can program it, then it’s a platform. If you can’t, then it’s not. However, much like F8, EC2, and S3 allow programmers to plug in and build on a service as they wish, sites like Craigslist and eBay allow non-programmer users to do the same. Further, placing an item on eBay is, techically, “progamming” eBay, as is placing a photo on flickr, putting this blog post on wordpress, or paying someone through PayPal…and the line between programmer and user is becoming thinner by the day (e.g. Yahoo! Pipes).

Not surprisingly, Andreessen’s Ning service, according to his definition, not only qualifies as a web platform, but is also a “Level 3” platform, the only others being, Second Life, and “sort of” Amazon (Facebook is only a “Level 2”). I think Ning is a great service, and Andreessen is clearly an amazing entrepreneur and writer, but these classifications seem arbitrary. “Platform” is being thrown around a lot these days, but this is likely in large part due to the explosion of flexible, adaptable web applications that let users and programmers alike manipulate services to fit their needs.

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