Making a happy developer house
Sunday, November 11, 2007 by Dave Winer.
My first essays were mostly about development platforms, the Internet, and how its open and easy protocols were routing around the messes created by alliances between the various tech leaders of the day. One of those pieces, Platform is Chinese Household, drew the analogy between platforms and ancient Chinese families. A successful platform, I theorized, was like a plural marriage. One husband, many wives. One platform vendor, many developers.
If you look at the successful platforms, most of them were completely open to anyone who wanted to make products for them. The best platforms were so open that people used the products to develop other products. You could do that on the Apple II, the IBM PC. Then came the Internet, where the duality was incredible. The Internet was an essential development tool, already, before any users came along. On the other hand, the most unsuccessful platforms have been the ones that were exclusive clubs, where only some people could develop. Sometimes they start exclusive and then become open, I'm thinking of the Macintosh, where I was lucky enough to be one of the insiders in 1983 who were seeded with development units. It was very good for recruiting, and it created a lot of buzz for us when it shipped, but the Mac didn't really blossom until 1986, after it had been openly available as a dev platform for two years. So I still don't know of a single example of an exclusive platform that worked. Yet companies still try to launch them, ignoring history, and hoping that they can control who gets to make their platform a winner.
Some examples of spectacular losers that were closed at birth: General Magic's MagicCap and Steve Jobs's NeXT. And today we have the iPhone, which is totally a closed box, with a very exclusive developer proposition. I had hoped that Google's phone platform, which was announced last week, would be the antidote for iPhone, but they are being exclusive about who they will let develop for it. I had hoped they would zig to Apple's zag, and would be completely open. Yet there are rumors that there are 50,000 gPhones out there with developers. I promise you, I don't have one. If I get one a year from now, I'm going to be less enthusiastic about trying to prove my ideas on their platform than I would be if I were among the first to get my hands on one.
In 1994 I suggested that developer relations is a mating ritual, if so, giving flowers to 50,000 developers and leaving the rest of us to wonder why we don't get a chance, is not good love-making. Same with OpenSocial. Their campfires and marshmallows show that they understand that love is an important part of making a platform happen, but who was invited to their slumber party, and who wasn't? I think at this point in the evolution of their platform business, they would do better to if they were more open and inclusive -- save the parties for celebrating the birth of the babies, the products the developers create. Spread the seed far and wide, or don't spread it at all. I think that's the lesson of the Internet, of Apple and IBM, and General Magic and NeXT.