The platform space is heating up again, which I think is a good sign for Silicon Valley. Back in the day, it was often a question of the Microsoft monopoly vs. any-and-all alternatives. Netscape made the suicidal strategic decision to pick a platform battle with Microsoft, poking a stick in the sleeping bear’s eye, when, instead, they should have simply risen on the Web wave and leveraged their default-homepage-advantage for as long as possible, without creating any enemies. In parallel, Sun hyped Java as an alternative the OS juggernaut, but we can now see in hindsight that the browser and Java were distractions to a more significant platform war: proprietary vs. open source.
With last night’s “campfire” behind us, it’s time to reflect a bit on what “platform” is relevent these days. From an opening-the-Social-Web perspective, we often think about Facebook’s platform vs. the Google-led collective effort of OpenSocial. In this domain, it is about whether one writes a social application to a single platform, to many platforms, or just once, and sees it run everywhere. (It’s the promise of Java revived for the Social Web.)
But what to make of the latest move? Google App Engine is a whole new kind of creature. It will take us all a while to digest exactly what has just happened here. Rather than tell you my early opinion, let me suggest that the real question for us all is, “Given what is happening overall, which platform war is most important?”
And a second, equally important question, is: “What is the relevant competitive set for this new platform?” That is taken up by Silicon Valley Insider’s Nate Westheimer here:
“If the Silicon Valley echo chamber wants to make up a competitor for AppEngine, its proper correlate (by a whisker) is Facebook’s F8 platform. If you must cram this new service into a pigeon hole, think of App Engine as the Facebook Platform for the grown-up web.”
What do you think? Is Google going after Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, or all three?
Also, don’t get distracted by the little tempest in the teapot…