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When Platforms Are Lit(erary)

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The story so far: in the beginning, the Universe was computers were created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
– Douglas Adams(ish)

Along with computers we made software. And in the year 2024,

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man vendor in possession of a good fortune enterprise software products to sell, must be in want of a wife an AI solution to add.
– Jane Austen(ish)

AI is everywhere, being incorporated by vendors at every portion of the stack, with every tool promising to unlock new customer value by using said AI in combination with the unique data they possess.

And in addition to all these vendors now being AI vendors, pretty much every vendor also calls themselves a platform. Products are good; platforms are better.

Happy families platforms are all alike; every unhappy family platform is unhappy in its own way.
– Leo Tolstoy(ish)

Happy platforms have gravity. They have sticky retention numbers. They command user attention. They play central roles in user workflows. Happy platforms integrate into other tools, but the happiest platforms have other ecosystem tools that are anxious to integrate with them.

One potential objection is that there are plenty of people unhappily stuck using platforms they dislike. Is that a happy platform? I think we’ve seen plenty of examples in this industry of beloved tools that could not successfully commercialize their technology, as well as many dreaded tools that are intractably woven into the enterprise; user happiness and platform happiness can be related but are not necessarily so.

Would a platform like to be both loved and sticky? Absolutely. But it’s also very possible to have happy platforms with unhappy users.

While a ruler platform can’t expect to inspire love when making himself feared itself indispensable, he it must avoid arousing hatred.
– Niccolò Machiavelli(ish)

So if:

  1. most vendors are trying to differentiate their software by building their own AI offering
  2. many times this AI story is underpinned in “unlocking the unique value of our customers’ data”
  3. everyone wants to be a happy platform with gravitational pull

If those are all true, are we going to start to see a reluctance to integrate and share data across platforms? Does the sharing of data with others start to undermine the value of a platform?

We’ve seen this data sharing concern manifest in a couple of ways already.

  1. We’ve seen a growing movement among enterprises and end users to make sure vendors are not using their private data to train their LLMs
  2. We’ve seen some content-heavy websites like Reddit try to put barriers around their data by charging for API access.

Is there similarly going to be worry between B2B software vendors about whether sharing their data strengthens their competitors platform and AI offerings? If everyone wants to monetize their own platforms using their own AI trained on their own data, do incentives around system openness start to change?

Last week I had a chance to ask Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian, how they are thinking about platform openness in an era of AI. If Atlassian considers their ‘teamwork graph’ to be part of their platform’s competitive advantage going forward, does that have implications on whether the company is considering charging third parties for API access?

Cannon-Brookes had a well-considered answer. He emphasized that while the data powering their teamwork graph is important to the platform, it’s ultimately the customers’ data–not the vendor’s data. He talked about the company’s broader belief in openness and said customers should be able to connect Atlassian to any tool they want to use. But Cannon-Brookes was also pragmatic about the realities of an AI-driven world, and said their decision on monetizing API access will depend on what other vendors choose to do. He said it would be “disappointing” if paywalls came up around data.

I suspect we are entering a world of increasing walls around data, but the extent of those walls is still an open question. In other words,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
– Charles Dickens

* With thanks/apologies to Douglas Adams, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Charles Dickens. 🙂

Douglas Adams, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, and Charles Dickens

Disclosure: Atlassian is a RedMonk client and covered my T&E to Atlassian Team.

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