It’s what I’ve come to call the WordPress Lesson. One of them, anyway. In an interview that I can sadly no longer find – such is the fate of content I forget to del.icio.us – WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg admitted that one of the mistakes the project had made was not intially providing an aggregation point for the volume of plugins, themes and other add-ons that distinguish the platform. Prior to the introduction of Extend, a person might have to crawl Google for a relevant plugin; now it’s a simple process.
What’s amazing is not that WordPress failed to do so, but that so many projects and products have learned nothing from this. True, I’m an outspoken proponent of network-enabled application marketplaces, but I still find it mind boggling that the notion is as rare as it is.
Consider that even with software as simple as a blogging platform, it’s rare that users install it and use it indefinitely with no further modifications, theme or otherwise. Customization seems to be, as SaaS advocates lament daily, a basic human need: I want something different than the guy next to me. Then factor in the overall level of expertise amongst user communities at large and that spells opportunity, n’est-ce pas?
Or do you find the humans-need-to-customize + most-can’t-do-it-on-their-own equation somehow flawed?
What is merely a lesson learned in a blogging platform, then, is something of a crime in the application platform world. If the market significance of an application platform is at least partially determined by the volume of third party apps designed for it, wouldn’t it behoove you to encourage their development by making the discovery and installation as simple and easy as possible?
Apple seems to have figured this out in its iTunes store, which is succeeding wildly in spite of the fact that it’s governed by policies that are fundamentally broken at every level. Much as I don’t approve of their baffling approval process, I do find it beneficial to find all (or, given the market for Jailbroken apps, “most of”) the applications for the platform available for me in one, single place. And while it’s always going to be more difficult to install and configure, say, the Apache web server than a Tetris clone for the iPhone, the differences to me only point to more opportunity: I would love for Ubuntu, our server platform at RedMonk, to connect me back to qualified, rated community resources capable of working on the various packages available in the repository.
To the extent that I would pay them for it.
Why is it, then, that application platforms so strongly divorce their product from the marketplaces that service them? No enterprise customer will put up with the degree of control currently enjoyed by Apple, of course, but that doesn’t mean that they might not appreciate the convenience of such a thing from time to time.
Sooner or later, application platform vendors are going to learn the WordPress lesson, but whether they learn it from there or from Apple is open to question. What isn’t open to question, I think, is the fact that application platform providers are going to try to create their own App Stores.
Just ask Cisco.