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The New Foundation of Any Web Solution Centers On Using A Great Platform

18 September 2011 Ken Yeung No Comment

Brick foundation (photo credit: maistora/flickr)Having lived in the historical home and heart of technology innovation, that being Silicon Valley, I’ve been noticing more and more startups emerge and demo their wares. Some even have even stood out more than others. And I’m not talking about those that are targeted towards consumers versus enterprise. Rather, I’m thinking that there are services and technologies that are being created to help other technologies and startups build their products. I’m sure we all have heard of this in one way, shape, or form, but what I’m talking about here is the increased presence of platforms being developed to change the way we use technology.

Almost a version of business-to-business, I view platforms more as the foundations and building-blocks that other technologies can use to power their own ideas and service. I believe that there’s a term that goes with this: Platform as a Service (PaaS). And this is what we’re seeing a proliferation about and what marketers need to know…you don’t have to reinvent the wheel…there are others that have done it for you and it only costs you a bit of cash to use it to make your products that much better.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re developing a product that needs a mobile component or a location-based feature or even photo-sharing option. Are you going to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to develop that? Or are you going to seek out a technology company that readily offers that at a substantially lower cost? I would summize that most people may probably choose the latter option. And if you think cost is the only reason why you should move to seeking out platform partners, then you’re wrong. It’s more about time and energy you want to invest in this opportunity. It’s definitely faster to simply leverage an existing platform’s service without even needing to find developers, engineers and product managers to create something from scratch.

Tech companies want you to use their content

Oh, and you don’t have to even really go through that much trouble with working with startup technology. Quite often, businesses will be able to work with new technology through something called an Application Programming Interface (API). Using this essentially free service offered by various technologies (some do have them, some don’t…so best to make sure before you plan anything), you can import data and content from those technologies into your very own product. For example, let’s look at maybe you’re developing a review site and you want to integrate tweets that mention a specific venue or event. Using Twitter’s API, you can have that information flowing into your service. Of course, that’s probably the most basic use of an API.

Platform/API infographic - the proliferation of data

Just look at the above table of the proliferation of data (graph provided by GOOD). As you can see, many of the most popular emerging technologies and services within the past few years have started to offer up their API for people to draw their content into your products.  Now, brands can have access to the content from services like Google Maps, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, YouTube, the New York Times, Foursquare and many others tied right into their product. More of these media-darling technologies are opening their services up because they want more exposure and that it will also help your brand create a really useful tool.

DukeHealth.org YouTube API integrationAnd don’t be mistaken to think that it’s just developing a mobile application that you can use these APIs for. YouTube has had their offering available for a while now and posted a case study on how Duke Medicine (part of the Duke University Medical System) developed DukeHealth.org and integrated YouTube’s API to import videos and all done for $0.

As you can imagine, videos in the healthcare and medical profession are very important for their audience. Duke Medicine wanted to share their latest videos on their own site instead of it being linked back to a YouTube page. In short, here’s what the folks at DukeHealth.org did:

All of the videos for DukeHealth.org are hosted on the DukeMedicine YouTube channel. Nightly, a feed of the videos is pulled from YouTube into DukeHealth.org’s CMS (content management system). The full set of YouTube metadata is stored in the CMS, allowing the videos to be accessed as standard content types. This allows the videos to be listed in the Health Library video section of the Web site, embedded throughout the site, and found via site-search.

So why wouldn’t you want to use a service’s API? It’s basically a win-win for all parties. If you’re developing an product that uses pulls data from the LinkedIn API, for example, then you’re going to gain an audience from LinkedIn (numbering in the MILLIONS) that will have their data seen on your product. And for your users, they’ll see your LinkedIn integration and they’ll share their information with their LinkedIn account. The sharing methodology works for all!

Services designed to just help you build yours

But aside from those services that already have a consumer-facing component to it, other types of services are being created just to help you build out yours. Whether it’s using things like WordPress, Heroku, Trove, Chute, SimpleGeo or Twilio, you can be sure that they are providing the data for you to make tools and products that will help your customers. Often, it seems that these types of startups and technologies get overlooked because they don’t have any customers using them, but these platforms are designed to curate content and also provide it to you in a way that you would use in a creative way.

Let’s take a look at one example…

Twilio

Twilio is a highly successful startup here in San Francisco that specializes in providing the technology and tools needed to help enable businesses to create voice and text-messaging applications. If it involves something mobile, then chances are that you will want to use Twilio’s services. Some companies that have taken advantage of Twilio include Intuit for identity verification, Hulu for their contact center, Sprint for outreach & promotions, AirBnb for enhanced customer communications, and Salesforce for interactive polling. As you can see, there’s a lot of different applications for anything mobile and the sky’s the limit. Whatever you can think about with mobile and/or telephony, Twilio will help you accomplish it.

As you can see, the creativity of your product depends on you. Platforms such as Twilio offer you the data and the resources to make your dream a reality. If you’re fortunate enough, make sure you head to one of these platforms’ hackathons since you’ll be able to see developers and designers go at it and take an existing code base and/or infrastructure and build their own product.

The enterprise also need platforms

For those interested in more enterprise platforms, Salesforce is probably more of a popular choice since it offers multiple services. First it actually is software in the Cloud, or Software as a Service, and also is considered a platform in of itself. In an interesting twist, if you look at how Salesforce’s service operates, you’re actually doing everything yourself – they’re just providing you with the infrastructure. The data that is being curated and aggregated, like you’d find in using services like Twilio or SimpleGeo, is your data. It’s your customer data and information and that is important only to you. BUT, when you want to build upon that data and create a new tool or service that leverages that content, then you will have a platform. And that’s really what Salesforce has done since their announcement at their developer conference, Dreamforce. From helping companies engage in more social media to developing a system for Ford or Coca-Cola to interact with their business and also their customers, Salesforce’s platform is one important piece to help businesses create meaningful solutions to beter engage their consumers.

And Salesforce isn’t the only enterprise service out there that operates as a platform. Look them up and you’ll probably see a lot more.

Taking the easy way out isn’t the lazy way out

It might seem that what I’ve suggested here is a bit…lazy…not building your own solution and just having the data served to you on a silver platter, but it’s really not about being lazy. Using platforms is just another stepping stone to help guide your products along the right path to get from conception to inception and execution. Whether you use the data to build or an API to integrate, the solution you have created is your own. The content being provided by these platforms is to supplement your information. Remember that these solutions, whether it’s an application, mobile, or web-based, will still be tied back to your brand. That’s what people will be memorizing and associating the service to. So are you going to re-invent the wheel or use the services at hand to help make you look good and in-touch with the technology? It’s not charity…it’s helping to build you a foundation.

Ken Yeung is a interactive strategist, project manager, and tech journalist. He's currently a Strategy and Research Content Lead at Orange Silicon Valley. Previously, he was the Bay Area Reporter for The Next Web, the Editor-in-Chief of Bub.blicio.us and a correspondent for Network Solutions' small business blog. These words are his own and not of his employer.