The Rise (and fall) of the Platform

The Rise (and fall) of the Platform

Twitter launched it’s very own photo-sharing and video uploading service today, courtesy of the great minds behind Photobucket (who are still around..apparently?). You can’t help but feel bad for TwitPic or yFrog or any of the number of photo-sharing services that launched with the open API that Twitter provided. All you needed was an API key and some gumption perhaps to create the next cool thing that could operate as an adjunct on the site. Now that any number of these sites have taken off, Twitter has decided to step in and offer their own service. So what do you do if your TwitPic? Die off in oblivion I guess…Twitter Lgo

Last week Google announced some housecleaning for some of it’s API’s: Places, Prediction, Tasks, and Translate. Of these 4, I’ve only used Translate to any real success (or need). However, the outcry of some of the developers in the comments is truly sad. Some of these folks have created entire applications or infrastructure around these API’s that Google freely hosted. There was never a guarantee that these things would stick around forever. I don’t think anyone ever really thought about it–Google offers essentially unlimited space for just about everything, why would they even bother to deprecate and remove code they were giving away for free? Some of these services have been replaced with elements that can be called from within an HTML5-compliant browser so its not a complete loss. But if I were a dev that was using the Translate API through JS or other libraries, I think I’d be a bit pissed off.

So where am I going with this? These platforms that are created by these companies are artificial islands of relevance. By leveraging the (often) free API platform you’re helping raise the awareness level for those tools that you’re using: I had a friend show me how to write simple JS Translate widgets that would real-time translate a page in the DOM without re-requesting the page. I’ve seen rather kick-ass things done with data manipulation done using the Charts API. For me, they increased my awareness of some of the cooler things one could do with Google’s external tools. Maps is a huge one–something I’d like to leverage in a future showcase.

Gaming is one area where I can draw a lot of corollaries. With the rise of the mature PC FPS in the late 90’s, games were becoming little islands of activities. Mod tools were being released by the developers or often being generated by the community and were being used to create substantial in-game works. I one saw an interactive museum someone built in the Half-Life 1 Source engine. Game mods for Unreal Tournament? How about Akimbo Arena, or any of the more create DM maps made available? id Software made it easy to modify Doom and put it back out provided you weren’t modifying the core game engine files. What happened to these platforms? For the most part they were killed off by console gaming. With a “security” barrier barring entry, user-made downloadable content has been a no-show on the Xbox or PlayStation systems. Often publisher’s will pack together a sampling of top-rated mods from the community and push those out under their own container, but this is few and far between.

Most of the mod tech I’ve seen recently is visible, but doesn’t get a lot of exposure unless you’re specifically looking for it. Bethesda highlights folks who are still creating mods for their games such as Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind at least once a week. I’m sure somewhere, there’s a kid making a mod for Quake 3 Arena, but I haven’t been looking for it regularly. For me that platform island is no longer relevant and is gone.

Next week I’ll explore some of the newer platforms out there and what those companies are trying to do to bring you on board. It’s a busy week between Apple’s WWDC, and the opening of E3. We’ll see.