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Software ecosystems

facebook_iphoneIn a second year in a row Facebook has won the top prizes at The Crunchies. It won the awards for the best overall start-up in 2008 and Mark Zuckerberg (founder and CEO, Facebook) won the award for the best start-up CEO in 2008. The Crunchies (see award photo below) are awards for web ventures. They are hosted by TechCrunch, a leading techie web blog. In Technorati TechCrunch is currently rated as the No. 2 blog in the world.

This post suggests some clues on why Facebook keeps getting more popular, both among users globally and the digerati.

But first some background. In a recent artile we used the term "software ecosystem". It's worth exploring this term. It reflects the increasing importance of intellectual property, software licensing and online collaboration.

In the recent post we looked at software ecosystems being formed around smartphones such as the iPhone. Google's Android also has an ecosystem, see its developers page and explore the platform agnostic nature of Google Mobile.

the_crunchies_awardWe'll now take a look at the Facebook software ecosystem. Facebook claims over 150 million users today. It's software ecosystem has helped get it there.

Facebook was founded on 1 February 2004, at first exclusively for Harvard students. It is now based in Palo Alto, at the centre of Silicon Valley, and has received funding so far of US$516 million. Developing a software ecosystem helped it get there.

The list below draws on information on an official Facebook Developers post .

  • In August 2006 Facebook introduced the first version of the Facebook API, enabling users to share their information with the third party websites and applications they choose. Using it users dynamically connect their identity information from Faceboo (eg,basic profile, friends, and photos) to third party websites and desktop and mobile applications.
  • In May 2007, Facebook launched Facebook Platform, which allowed third party developers to build social applications within Facebook. More than 350,000 developers and entrepreneurs from 225 countries have signed up, and started developing applications, and have seen significant adoption by Facebook users worldwide.
  • In May 2008 Facebook announced Facebook Connect, enabing users to "connect" their Facebook identity, friends and privacy to any site. This enabled third party websites to implement and offer even more features of the Facebook Platform off of Facebook – similar to features available to third party applications today on Facebook.

So what business infrastructure supports these ecosystems? Here's a possible grouping of requirements for technology management for smartphone or mobile phone software ecosystems.

  • Legal - use of intellectual property licences and other types of contracts to structure legal relationships between a venture owner and participants in its software ecosystem. The ecosystem needs order, the same is the case for open source projects. Copyright law and contracts used in combination help provide legally mandated order.
  • Financial - use of revenue share or other remuneration arrangements to feed participants. Apple for example takes a 30% share and in return provides a complete route to a global market; eg application owner do not have to negotiate with lots of geographic-specific wholesalers.
  • Technical - use of:

There are links to The Crunchies winners and runners up here, along with the names of nominated ventures. Voting for The Crunchies is open, it does not use alternative voting methods such as peer assessment (as is the case for Australia's AIMIA Awards) or guild voting (which is at the core of the Oscars).

If you are involved or interested in web ventures, particularly those largely directed to consumer markets, then it's worth reviewing the list of winners and runners up. It's a source for ideas on popular interface designs, and ventures attracting buzz among the hundreds of thousands who nominated them or voted for them.

Comments welcome.


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