Do you go to a barber or to a hairstylist? Do you get a haircut or a hair design? Trends and fashion surely impacted the use of terminology in many industries over the years. The hi-tech arena is not different. The only thing we can say to its defense is that in many cases the evolution in terminology is accompanied by real technological developments, not just perception changes.

Think of how the web, “just web”, left the prime stage for the sake of web 2.0. Or the distance from the original LinkedIn concept to Twits. It’s just an example, of course.

And now, is “platform” the new trend pushing “web services” aside?

I’ve asked this question around for the past couple of weeks. It looks like the “platform” concept is very popular. Many developers of web services have decided to dress their companies with the air of “platform”. Isn’t offering a platform for buying and selling a lot more impressive than suggesting an online shop?

Similarly, venture capitalists say, many developers of various software solutions present their software as “an engine”. Having a software that performs isn’t impressive enough. But offer an engine – now you’re talking!

The investors are not that impressed with the new terminology. Although some treat is as “semantics only” and ignore the choice of word, others prefer it if the entrepreneurs would call their child with its proper name. That would lead to the correct market strategy, from research to penetration and management of competition.

So what is really the difference between a web service and that glorified platform?

Platform

A web service usually offers an actual solution to end users.
A web platform, however, offers a basis for the creation, by others, of services or solutions, which are then offered to end users. A platform is a basis on which you can build new things.

“The web is a platform”, claimed Tim O’reilly in his article from 2005 “What Is Web 2.0”. But some ventures have taken this concept too far. For instance- “The Meretz USA weblog is a platform for discussion of issues related to Israel and the American Jewish community…” – why not simply a forum?

In many cases it’s simply a confusion, where the usage of the term “platform” is correct – language wise, even if not venture-wise. “ParagonEX Trader is an advanced online trading platform for the Forex market”. “Erayo is the world’s first online wholesale platform for boutiques and independent retailers.” “BlogTV is a well recognized platform that has won several awards”. Qoof widget is “The Most Advanced Video Platform on the World Wide Web”.

Qoof executive chairman and founder Richard Kligman explained: “I think we just started a few years ago with the term Platform and so that is what stuck. Even though SASS (Software as a Service) may be a better fit for us now, platform is still more understood when talking to clients and investors. If I remember correctly we looked at what Brightcove called themselves and since we are the best solution for video as a selling tool, as opposed to an entertainment tool like Brightcove, we decided to go with that. I think SAAS is on its way up and will be more common in the next 12-24 months, but for now Platform is the one you need to explain less.”

On the other side there are companies who could use the sexy term, but elegantly avoided the trend:
Fring™ is a mobile internet community and communication service that allows friends to connect…” but “Fring provides an Open API, providing 3rd party developers with the building blocks to create mobile web apps and leverage Fring community & hardware capabilities” which actually adds a platform to the service.

Things are very clear in the eyes of entrepreneur Yossi Taguri (Nuconomy). “A platform is something you build on, a service is something you give out of the box…For instance: Windows is a platform, hotmail is a service. Google app engine is a platform, Google apps for domains is a service.” Yet on the company’s web site “NuConomy helps companies better assess and understand website and social marketing performance with its free, next generation web analytics and optimization platform.” Taguri clarifies: “we have an analytics service and an advertising platform”.

You can get a hint on the perceived importance of ‘platform’ from a sentence Jeff Pulver wrote on one of his blog posts “…Facebook’s opening of it’s platform with the APIs … transformed FaceBook from a social networking application to a social networking operating system”.

So my guess is, we should be looking at the development of a lot more platforms in the next couple of years. And probably a process of separation between services or SAAS and platforms.

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