I had a very busy week last week. Imagine that.
We wrapped up another major beta rev of our product, we spoke with a few customers, followed up with a few more, and then I did a West Coast swing to talk to a variety of folks from all walks of tech life.
Aside from an unrelenting head/chest funk and a series of predictable comments re: the economy, I had one major takeaway regarding developer platforms that hit me like a truck, perhaps a bit later than it should've. Look around... EVERYONE has a developer platform now -- either a large one with a ton of documentation and investment behind it, or an Open API used to expose data for some likely nefarious yet more limited purpose. From my perspective as an entrepreneur, it's all the same. It's a set of technologies my developers need to master to achieve the grand vision of our product(s). While everything else may be in a bear market, the developer platform market is booming like few other tech businesses.
Take a trip to the Programmable Web API List, and you'll find 1,036 of them. That's a LOT of open & pseudo-open APIs considering by the broadest definition of the term "developer", there are only about 10m web devs out there worldwide. And I'm being really generous... the real number of people qualified to use or take advantage of the APIs listed at Programmable Web may be as little as 5 million. And probably a third of those are stuck in a hyperbaric chamber of a corporate basement maintaining and patching 15 year old line of business applications. The market is SMALL and the # of open APIs and dev platforms continues to increase.
If you agree with my assumptions, that's roughly 1k developer APIs for 3.5m developers... or about one API per 3,500 developers. I've seen bears and I've seen bulls, and this is most definitely a bull market for developers wishing to mash up data and build web applications. A lot of companies have based their strategy on getting developers to write apps for their "platform". Good luck with that. Hell, we even have a brief section on Open APIs in our business plan!
I think we're due for a bit of a shakeout in the developer platform markets. The existence of a dev platform and/or set of Open APIs is NO LONGER a differentiator unless you've captured tremendous market share in a niche that a lot of people want. Note: I haven't seen many of these.
But my broader point is that I don't think companies large or small have caught on to this. If our devs are any indication, their time is scarce and they don't have time to play around with things that don't immediately solve a major business or technical problem that we have. It is getting harder and harder to get developers to pay attention to your platform, regardless of how brilliant, advanced, or futuristic it may be.
So what matters to a dev or an entrepreneur in a world of developer platform & open API noise? Here's your hint.
I hate to blame the economy, but the fact is that today the actions of your team and your developers *must* generate revenue ASAP. Nobody has the tolerance or constitution for anything else. In this environment, startups that don't generate revenue quickly will fail. Corporate efforts that don't generate revenue or save money will get cut. This isn't the time to make long-term investments without knowing how or when you will make money.
Let's call this the Treadaway Law of Dev Platforms -- successful dev platforms of 2008 and beyond must demonstrate a clear path for a company, large or small, to make money or save money quickly.
Corollary #1 -- Complicated developer platforms must provide a corresponding economic or audience benefit that exceeds similar platforms offered by competitors.
Corollary #2 -- Simple developer platforms may be limited in scope as long as they are useful, and they must work reliably and with little effort required from developers.
Corollary #3 -- Complicated developer platforms need substantial financial investment and transparency with early adopters to win.
I will probably post more on this topic as I find it fascinating. I have not met too many people who think through the economics (for/against) (buy/build/deploy/reinvent/target/support) (insert dev platform 1/2/3). It is more relevant today than ever before, and perhaps the main reason decisions are made and why platform battles are won and lost.