I mentioned that platforms as bases for innovations that combine Platforms provide common, standardized technology/infrastructure/organization sets upon which people can build services that provide goods or benefits. Infrastructure —such as roads, electrical systems, and wireless communications— can be considered a basic sort of platform.
Platforms beget platforms, so automobiles, home/office security systems (with electrical detectors, lights and alarms), and cell phones sit on top of broader platforms. The Internet is a platform that depends upon electricity and communications (which can be wired or wireless). The Web sits on top of the Internet platform.
Some of the requirements for technical platforms are easy access by users, clear technical specifications (and often regulations), data and monitoring, provision for maintenance, ability to handle capacity (or fail gracefully), and development plans.
As an example, for roads, access translates into drivable connections for cars all the way from driveways to highway. Technical and legal specifications reach from building materials and right-of-way to licensing of drivers. Data and monitoring includes traffic reports, closed circuit cameras, and highway patrols. Road crews patch holes and clear snow as part of the maintenance. Traffic jams are a failure that, in real life, is often less than graceful, but detours, special lanes, and usage fees (often connected with time of day) are some of the approaches to handling capacity. Development plans provide blueprints for responding to problems (like traffic jams) and creating new opportunities.
This last, for any platform, is interesting to developers. For a road system, the developer may be someone who builds hotels or service stations. For the Internet, it may be someone who builds applications. All developers need to understand how access, rules and restrictions, technical specifications, capacity, reach, and performance will change over time. No one wants to create a development project that will be obsolete, superseded, or inaccessible to the target market.
A platform changes most rapidly and provides the most surprises when it can be hacked. (By hacked, I mean leveraged for use by an informal community with its own specific needs and wants, not hacked in the sense of efforts by destructive people, like those who break through firewalls or write viruses.) The closer the capabilities of a technical platform come to communities with needs, the more interesting things get. I think this is the essence of SF writer William Gibson’s comment that “The street finds its own uses” [for technology]. I’m not sure car manufactures anticipated hotrods or television networks imagined YouTube series.
One of the most exciting areas of hacking is the cell phone. Over 300 apps are created each day, adding on to over 700,000 that are already available. Mash-ups take advantage of the ability to pull together easily accessed data resources for customized niches. Scientists and engineers are taking advantage of sophisticated gaming systems, like X-boxes to add interfaces, monitoring, and robotics capabilities to their experiments and inventions.
And what about emerging platforms? Certainly, 3-D printers are among these. I suspect a combination of voice recognition and artificial intelligence will provide some startling forms of electronic advisors, assistants, and companions. Biohacking is already on its way, and it has the potential to change our culture.
The human body may be the ultimate platform. Tools to extend our senses and physical powers have been external for millennia, but they will both become integrated into our bodies and move beyond repairs to true augmentation. Elegant and sloppy brain hacks —through biochemicals and electronics— may be part of our lives within a generation.
But, of course, all the emerging platforms will only reach their full potential when the basic requirements listed above are satisfied.