Forbes has a piece today on Google's (and yes, all the other online players too...but that's not a sexy headline :-) ) approach towards developers. This touches on a point I made previously (see: "This is an important point in time.." ).
I thought that this was a pretty good discussion of why empowering developers is important and how it can help companies: a) Grow more quickly b) Create good will c) Get people to work for them for free. To their credit, unlike many of the bloggers and journalists who like to portray Google as inventing something brand new here, they actually highlight the fact that Microsoft and Oracle have been playing the developer game for a long time.
This brings me to a question: What do you need to do in order to persuade developers to develop for your platform?
The article says that Eric Schmidt comments on the fact that developers aren't making much money at the moment and draws a parallel to the early days of the PC. Ok, so, assuming that I buy that it was tough going early on for PC developers (it strikes me that there were/are a lot of consulting opportunities for these guys, just like the consulting opportunities that the Hotcatcha developer is seeing) what's the evolution for the web service developer? Is the model always going to be advertising for these developers and if so, are they really able to make enough money this way? Is money even the primary motivator?
Going down this route of logic leaves me with even more questions:
- Does this mean that a developer can't just be content programming, they also have to be concerned with traffic creation?
- In the PC sector, weren't developers able to keep basically all of the revenues associated with their work? How does that fit with the fact that the advertising players (Google, Yahoo!, MSN etc) are keeping a share of the revenues?
- What does this mean for the margins of the advertising players? It occurs to me that Microsoft never had to face margin issues due to revenue sharing deals.
- What's the real motivation for developers to develop on top of these platforms? Is it mostly financial or is there something else? It almost feels like there's more to be said for the enjoyment of developing something cool/unique using the infrastructure and data of a very large company. You don't have to deal with the pieces that you don't like, you can just focus on what you really want to build.
Now, this is just a half-baked blog entry, to be honest. I don't have a definite opinion on several of these things, but I believe that they are issues that need to be thought about. (The margin item, in particular, is something that makes me wonder about Google as an investment. If Microsoft/Yahoo! make inroads in search market share, Google's revenue split would shift to its Network, where the gross margins are worse, which would then really change its valuation right?)
But where I think there's something really meaningful here is when I think about my last question. There are many reasons that a developer might want to tap into your platform and develop for it. I don't think it's clear that you have to offer the most money to developers. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I'm pretty sure that money isn't good enough if the development options aren't appealing. If you take a look at Open Source software development, I think it's pretty clear that the people involved in Linux weren't envisioning a financial reward at the end, they just really liked the project. So in my view, the key task, for anyone wanting to tap into the development community and to get them to "work for free" for you, is to ensure that they can pursue their interests. If you can simultaneously figure out how to structure the work in a way that presents developers with options that are appealing to them and that takes care of the work that they find to be mind-numbingly boring, you probably have a winner on your hands, regardless of financial incentives. Essentially, a developer is probably saying:
"Find a way to tap into my interests and I'll give you my free time, provided that you remove the crap work that I don't like doing."
Wait a second! Is that only applicable to developers?
I don't think so :-)
More to come on this later. Think it over for a bit though. Comment if you're confused, I'll try to clarify the things that don't make sense. Gotta get back to work for now :)
Technorati Tags: business strategy, supporting your ecosystems, creating an ecosystem, open source strategy, supporting developers, economy of influence, satisfying interests