App Development: Head in the Cloud

One thing that becomes clear whenyou consider the exhaustive coverage ofYahoo’s business model and related technologyinfrastructure is that Yahoo—likeGoogle, Microsoft and a host of other Webservice providers—has its heart set on beinga platform.

In the old days, the platform was first theoperating systems on the client machine andlater the servers. But the Web has changedthat, and companies as big as Microsoft andas small as are all now tryingto recruit developers to create applicationsthat can be delivered via their platforms inthe network cloud.

As Dave Carr explains in this issue’s cover package, Yahoo is wooing developersto create applications that will run across its network,which it also refers to as a platform. Google,Microsoft, eBay and others have similarly madedevelopment kits available that essentially exposean application programming interface (API) to justabout anyone who wants to create an application.

The intriguing question this raises for any ITorganization at any company with any kind of business-to-consumer model is which, if any, of theseorganizations will have enough pull to requiretheir companies to see them as full-fledged routesto markets.

Already it’s plain to see that the major Web sitesare becoming networks through which third partiesare distributing content, software and services.As this trend continues, the more inevitable it becomesthat businesses of all shapes and sizes will need access todevelopers familiar with the different Web environmentsto ensure that their offerings don’t get lost amid the thousandsof other services that will be offered through thevarious clouds.

Of course, it’s tempting to say, who needs to be insomeone else’s cloud; all you need is a good Web site backedby solid search engine optimization. But even on the Webthere is a cost of sales, and just as in real life, you have tobring your products and services to your potential customers—you can’t wait for them to come to you.

In effect, Yahoo, like other sites such as Amazon andeBay, is little more than the 21st century version of the localstrip mall. It isn’t pretty, but everybody goes there. So ifyour presence on the Web is down the digital equivalentof a side street, you can expect to fall victimto the same location issues that bedevil everybrick-and-mortar retailer that’s not on themain drag.

It will be interesting to see how long itwill take for many conventional businesses tofigure this out and respond. When you visit aMacy’s store, for instance, you find essentiallya building full of designer boutiques organizedby brand. An e-commerce Web site is prettymuch the same.

So maybe Macy’s needs to develop andpromote an API for its Web site that wouldmake it easier for more vendorsto get into the Macy’sanchoredonline mall. After all,why should Macy’s be limitedonline to the same products itessentially resells in its storeson behalf of other companies?

And while Macy’s is atit, it might also provide somecompelling content designed todraw people into its online mallin the first place.

Whatever happens ultimately,it’s clear we’re on thecusp of a major shift in thedefinition of the term platformas it applies to computing. Infact, about the only thing leftto decide now is how proactiveyour organization must be to deal with that shift.

But to one degree or another, the transition to networkclouds as platforms is going to change not only how yourorganization thinks about IT but how your company as awhole takes its goods and services to market.