The Power of the Consumer

Question: What are your thoughts on cloud computing?

Chris Anderson: We’ve always had this question of platform ownership, remember Microsoft? Remember Windows? How we used to worry about Microsoft’s hold on this platform that we all had to build on. In that case, you had a singular platform, right? It was a Windows world. We just lived in it. The good news of that is it was pretty clear when there was undue restrictions on access to the platform, then we knew who to blame. Right? Straight to Redmond, go for it. Now there’s multiple platforms. I mean, there are all the ones you mentioned. You know, the Twitters, the Facebooks, the browsers are in some sense are a platform, then you have the devices, Apple, iPhone, many other devices, they might make their own platforms, you see this kind of massive platform battle. Each one of them is trying to establish some sense of proprietary, ownership of a platform for all the reasons you state. Yet, because there are so many platforms, consumers do have choice. If you are Facebook and you decide to build a platform that really locks people in, there’s a strong incentive for people to look elsewhere. You do see these kind of forces in opposition. There’s the one force, the very natural, company force [whose] instinct is to close things up and to own them. Then, you have the consumers whose sort of natural force is to demand openness, demand portability, demand the ability to exit as easily as they enter. We talk about lowering the barriers to entry but you also want to lower the barriers to exit so that people don’t feel like they’re risking everything.

Open ID and open apps are two examples. I think we’re seeing these two battles play out and although Jonathon is absolutely right, that this is a risk, I perhaps have more confidence in the power of the marketplace to sort this out. I think that the one thing we’re sure about in this era is that we have choice, lots and lots of choice. If Facebook gets it wrong or if Twitter gets it wrong, there are a thousand other companies in the wings just waiting to get it righter. Knowing that, I believe --and so true for Google the elephant in the room on this-- I think knowing that their hold on the consumer is not permanent, it’s not cast in stone and is only permitted as long as they serve the consumer better than the obvious alternatives, I believe, will keep them doing the right thing.

Recorded on September 30, 2009

The massive platform competition means companies must do everything they can to retain customers. The marketplace will sort itself out, says Chris Anderson, author of Free.

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