The Web as a platform — or not

Is the Web a platform, or is it just something you should use to build a platform? That’s not a Zen koan, it’s an attempt to categorize one of the discussions going on in Web 2.0-land. You might think it’s an easy one to solve, since Tim O’Reilly — one of the guys who came up with the term — says that the idea of Web 2.0 involves “the Web as platform.” In other words, the Web is an integral part of a service like Google Maps or Flickr.

Others seem to disagree, as Fred Wilson notes in a recent post. Jeremy Zawodny seems to feel that the Web is what you use to build a platform. And how do you build one? Greg Linden says Web 2.0 consists so far of “mashups” that simply throw together something like Google Maps with classified listings, his point being that if that’s all there is to your service, you are likely to get overtaken. Don Park says all the fuss over Web 2.0 is like “a party inside MacGyver’s shoebox.”

In a way, Don Park and Greg Linden have a point — if this new revolution (or evolution) is just about cool Ajax sites and neat mashups using Google Maps and [fill in the blank], it’s hard to see it having any lasting effect. What makes things like Flickr.com different? Not the platform, and not the Ajax, but the interaction — the community. And finding ways to enhance it, like RSS and open APIs and so on.

Fred points to a perceptive essay by Paul Graham, and says the main point is “the Web is a platform and you must build on top of it and you must be open and you must not try to lock people in. If you do, you are eventually going to regret it.” Words to live by.

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