Platform Sharecropping

By Deane Barker on December 30, 2013

The Year Megaplatforms Ruled The Internet: Good article about something we’ve discussed before: software sharecropping (link goes to Tim Bray’s seminal post on it), or building something which depends on a platform you do not control.

What Zulily is saying, here, is that its prospects — its chances for continued existence — are contingent on the whims of Google, a company that doesn’t really care about Zulily. It’s saying that Zulily, the company, means about as much to Google as Zulily, the word, means to you. A minor interface tweak for Google translates to an existential threat for this objectively large but comparatively small company. For this multibillion-dollar enterprise, and its investors, incremental Google updates may as well be acts of God.

If you step back from this, in a larger sense it means that the web is sort of becoming proprietary.  You can build something great on open standards.  But if it requires Google to function well and survive as a business, then open standards be damned – you are effectively owned by a commercial company, no matter how “open” the web is supposed to be.

As more and more web services rely on one-way relationships like this, the power over the web is consolidating down to a powerful few.