Hey, You, Get Off of My Platform

That’s the message that Apple recently delivered to Adobe, and the message that Twitter might seem to be delivering to application developers.

Apple is the bigger firm, the bigger story, and is playing for bigger stakes. How big? I don’t think that Erik at TechCrunch exaggerated a couple of days ago when he put it like this.

I wonder whether he [Steve Jobs] is repeating the very same mistakes which relegated Macs to a niche market. Or did he learn from those mistakes so that Apple comes out on top this time?

Jobs is once again pitting Apple’s complete product design mastery against the rest of the industry, except this time he thinks he will prevail. Whether it is his repeated moves to keep Adobe’s Flash off the iPhone or his growing rift with Google over Android, Jobs is making the iPhone and iPad a relatively closed system that Apple can control.

While Apple is denying Adobe entry into iLand, Twitter is welcoming Tweetie into its fold. Twitter acquired Atebits, maker of iPhone Twitter client Tweetie. Matthew Ingram at GigaOm summed up and linked out well, indicating the range of opinion as to what the Twitter ecosystem will be in future.

I like many others, thought that something was up when I read Fred Wilson’s post about the Twitter platform’s inflection point.

Much of the early work on the Twitter Platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product… Mobile clients come to mind. Photo sharing services come to mind. URL shorteners come to mind. Search comes to mind. Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience.

But… What are the products and services that create something entirely new on top of Twitter?

I’m not sure I agree that Twitter should have had all of that when it launched. That would have held up the launch, and discouraged developers from filling the holes. Now there are some discouraged developers of Twitter iPhone clients who now have to compete with the official and free Twitter for iPhone. And there are others Twitter developers wondering if a similar fate will overtake them.

Although these two stories (Apple/Adobe, Twitter/Tweetie) are currently atop the Techmeme news site, the tension between firms that own platforms and firms that develop for those platforms is nothing new. Here’s a quote from Twitter founder Ev Williams, from a recent NY Times Bits piece, that could with just a word or two changed be about pretty much any platform.

There are tons of opportunities created by the Twitter platform, and things that people will probably be disappointed if they invest in… It’s a question of what should be left up to the ecosystem and what should be created on the platform.

So, if you invested in an iPhone app for the Twitter platform, would you be disappointed right now? Not if you were Loren of Atebits. While Twitter may have just dashed or dented the hopes of some developers, it has made one rather better off.

In some ways, that will encourage Twitter app development: will my app be the one acquired for that niche/hole in the product? That’s a different question from: will my app do reasonably well in an ecosystem with a large and diverse population of apps? But it’s still an interesting question. I’d say it’s a more interesting question than: what barriers and hoops will Apple put in my way next?

No Such Thing as a Free Sprout

About a year ago, I tried Sprout Builder. A sprout, in this context, is a Flash widget. SB cost nothing to try, and there was quite the buzz about it at the time. Two days ago, those of us with Sprout accounts got an email from Carnet Williams, the CEO.

Like many technology companies, we offered our service for free while we worked on our products, spoke with customers and developed our go-to-market strategy. Now that we have developed a solution worthy of creative professionals at the best agencies in the world, it is time for us to monetize. Starting in early February, we will begin charging for our service.

My reaction was one of surprise and interest, given the widespread use of the freemium model. I would have expected a very limited free version, with steps up from there in terms of price and service. Instead, as ReadWrite Marshall puts it: “Users will need to pay a minimum of $140 for a year of uptime for three widget projects.” He considers the lack of a free version a bad and sad thing, as do most of those who commented on his post.

Mashable Adam takes a more neutral tone. He quotes the SproutMail in full, and, based on a conversation with Carnet, “notes that the company will continue to offer free accounts to non-profits and academic institutions.” Again, comments on the post are mainly negative, with some feeling that they have been taken in by a bait and switch, with the year of free beta sprouts as the bait, and the recent email as the switch.

“The Case of the Charging Sprout” raises several questions, such as:

  • What is the deal for edu/nonprofit customers of SB? One of the quotes earlier in this post indicates that SB will be free for such customers, while the pricing FAQ states that “educators, design students and non-profits can use Sprout Builder at a discounted rate.”
  • Did SB give sufficient warning that the free sprout honeymoon would end?
  • WW37SD? What would 37signals do? 37s has done an impressive job with the freemium model, making the free version interesting enough and the $ versions premium enough. It’s interesting to compare the Basecamp pricing chart with the Sprout Builder chart. The former shows that there is a free version, the latter that there isn’t. Now, project management is certainly different from widget building, but I think that similar pricing considerations might apply.
  • How will SB’s decision work out? I don’t think that it will work well. A free version, however limited, encourages people to get started. While SB offers a 30-day free trial, that’s not the same thing as being able to maintain a sandbox over a period of time, so that one can, as time allows, keep going back to SB, assessing its fit for different projects that come up, and comparing it with competitors.

I’ll send a couple of emails soliciting answers to the first and third of these questions. But I hereby solicit your take on them, and comments are open…

Chrome Versus Firefox

I don’t like the post title: can’t the free/open source browsers get along? If there’s any versus, shouldn’t they line up against the common enemy, and amidst the smaller tribes?

But Chrome and Firefox don’t seem able to get along, at least not on this (Windows XP) laptop. Every time I’ve had them running at the same time, Flash has crashed.

As an early adopter, albeit one with a little early adoption fatigue, I am using Chrome. In fact, I’m using it to post this. But many of the other things I’d like to adopt early come in the form of Firefox extensions, and Chrome doesn’t yet support extensions. I’ll give just one example of a new(ish) extension: Mozilla’s own Ubiquity.

There are also some extensions I’ve got used to, such as Copy as HTML Link and FoxyTunes. I may well be heading back to Firefox, while keeping an eye on Chrome development.