I've been thinking through the question of platform versus product for the last couple of years in my own business. We built a platform that was initially designed as a tool to help enterprises create mobile applications. What we learned is that it's much easier to gain traction selling products that are built with a platform than a platform itself. When you sell a platform, you're selling the potential to create something that will eventually be of value to end-users. When you sell a product, you're selling an asset that creates immediate value.
Step sidewise into Virtual Worlds and you can see a parallel situation. Virtual Worlds are technology platforms. A raw virtual world doesn't provide much value to users, except for those who want to build something on it. Cloud Party is a great example. It was fun for maybe an hour to just hang out, check out its features and chat with people. But since there was so little content, there wasn't any incentive to keep coming back, other than building something or keeping up with their progress.
Second Life is a different story. It teems with content. Except for content creators, the people who keep coming back month after month have found specific activities they enjoy: Hanging out in a particular community, be it furry, vampire or informal; attending art or music events; playing games or sports; shooting photographs or machinima; etc. The point is that although the underlying platform enables the experiences content creators put together, it's the content (products) created on top of the platform that draw the vast majority of people in.
A few years ago I touched on the idea of allowing third-parties to create products on the Second Life platform that they could market to specific audiences.
Here's the basic vision: Second Life developers and entrepreneurs are given tools and support to create and market stand-alone applications using the Second Life platform.Zooming out from Second Life to the higher level concept of Virtual Worlds, the question is whether the paradigm will move forward as a universal and interoperable platform like the web, or end up being realized through a multitude of standalone products with little or no connection to each other. From the user perspective, it's only the product that matters.
Applications such as:
These could be marketed without overt reference to Second Life and accessible via a web browser client. So if someone created a pet-breeding game, it could be marketed like any other Facebook application. A new user would respond to a banner ad or Facebook request, choose from a selection of stock avatars, and be transported into the destination. They would never need to leave the game space or interact with the wider Second Life community. Of course, once they gained familiarity with the interface, they'd be prime candidates to try other SL-based applications or join the overall community.
- Themed 3D Chat Environments
- Virtual Meeting Space
- Art Exhibitions
- Live Entertainment Spaces
- Adult-themed applications