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Business - Written by on Wednesday, November 7, 2007 12:37 - 2 Comments

The race for the next platform

My colleague Alan and I were chatting this morning about Facebook, Microsoft and Google, and it spurred some thoughts about the future of these three companies, and who will win the fight for platform dominance.

Microsoft’s dominance over the past two decades has been a product of its success in tying users to Windows through the desktop. Google’s emergence over the past half-decade draws its foundation on its dominance in search, and its subsequent ability to filter people from search through to external sites, i.e. the Webtop. Facebook now adds the Socialtop – leveraging people’s willingness to share information and communicate online into a potentially lucrative advertising model.

But the question now emerges of whether this latter iteration of the platform, i.e. the socialtop, has the legs to survive on its own. Or more poignantly, is its survival dependent on its integration into one of the other two forms of platforms – either the desktop through Microsoft or through the Webtop and Google/Yahoo!, etc.

Evidently Google’s plans with OpenSocial signify their move in a different direction, but it also provides a relatively phenomenal opportunity for Microsoft to aggregate the desktop and socialtop into one big ‘ole lifetop that merges work and social. Sure there are a few curveballs that could change the environment, aka. Yahoo! / Linux / open systems, but I certainly think that the opportunity is there for Microsoft to make a major move and try to leverage its initial advertising deal with Facebook into a deeper, long-term platform merging commitment. On the other hand, Alan argues Google’s investment in players like Neven Vision (which owns more facial recognition patents than anyone), keyhole, real world display ads, and now their mobile platform play (Android) they might have an edge on MSFT for real-world integration… potentially an important part of the “lifetop”.

So who wins? You tell us.


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Edward Charvet
Nov 8, 2007 5:13

Great train of thought. We have been discussing something similar in our seminars at Cisco recently. There was a piece of research from Mckinsey recently on German social sites. Broadly it argued that only 2% of “member” actually did any work (eg posting, tagging etc). Whether this is true or not, I think it is fair to assume that any site that requires UG for growth and content is dependent on a fractional element of what people claim to be the total user base (I accept that Facebook et al this may be much higher, but still I would love to see how many people as a % regularly manage their profile). The point is that where social sites are built on profiles then the “work” required from each participant to may be a barrier to social platform becoming a dominant platform in the form you outline. Whilst this must be good news for the Microsoft/Facebook tie up, as Facebook now has a critical mass (?), the concept of “Facebook fatigue” – bored with maintaining a profile and objecting to having to create one from scratch – may play into the hands of those who think that Facebook platforms are fashion driven which is the time bomb ticking under each one.

It would seem logical to us that the platforms with potential to maintain dominance over the next decade are those that support content creation that the crowd values, Microsoft has this corner covered, and applications that help people find what they want, Google and Friends – but as you have argued on this blog before is Google itself under threat from more intelligent search? It feels like the status quo will be maintained – does that make me sound like a Luddite?

Dan Herman
Nov 8, 2007 9:29

I might have to expose myself as a luddite as well, Edward. I’ve argued the onset of Facebook fatigue for some time now – my friends and I first noticed the drop in activity about 4 months ago. It was fun for awhile, we peered, we snooped, but once the critical mass of your friends and acquaintances are signed up, it really loses its appeal. Or so I believe. And as an author whom I can’t remember recently said, “the cool kids left MySpace for Facebook and have now left Facebook…where they’ve gone is the next great question.”

But does integration with a major work or platform help alleviate the decline? It’s certainly something they will have to look at in order to avoid a Friendster-like fate. I for one believe that tying it to the desktop offers Facebook the opportunity to leverage their social network with search and advertising all in a “always connected” environment. Pretty tough to beat.

As for Google, while I agree that their number one position in search has been usurped, I believe the more important question is does that even matter? What do the masses need and want from search – do sub-second searches easily differentiate from one another, in which case Google may indeed be in trouble. Or does a certain level of search quality, coupled with brand dependence, build a relationship that could outlast trends, algorithmic improvements.

I don’t believe there’s any cut and dry answer to those questions. Most thought MSFT would have seen its dominance long gone by now, yet here they are with great results and what could be an ever strong value prop.

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