A social music service is among the updates being rolled out by Facebook in the wake of its f8 developers’ conference. This audio service does, however, have a predecessor and its developer claims the project was killed for reasons very different to the ones reported on at the time.
Faraz launched “Audio” on Facebook shortly after the developer platform was released. On 30 July 2007 Facebook removed “Audio” from their platform for “Copyright violations” and VentureBeat covered the story the following day as an “app developer removed for copyright infringement” non-event.
According to Faraz, what really happened was that his friend and then Facebook employee Dave Morin discovered internally that Facebook was already cutting a deal with “another music application”. Morin tried to defend Faraz and “Audio” and paid for it with his job. Morin’s replacement was a former AOL’er who had cut a back-room deal with Sean Parker to export AOL social graph data to Facebook in return for US$90 million in Facebook stock. Once he took over the Facebook platform, Faraz claims he killed “Audio” to “help his friends at iLike”.
Building on a platform, as Faraz did, can make you very wealthy. Just ask DOS and Windows anti-virus pioneer John McAffee who now spends his McAffee anti-virus money developing a female viagra in the jungles of Belize. It’s also fraught with risk. You’ve probably never heard of Adobe Illustrator for Steve Jobs NeXT OS because NeXT never took off and it cost every software business that bet on the platform a pile of time, money and opportunity cost.
There is a bigger risk when building your business on someone else’s platform: The risk that your landlord is going to think your app is a big enough opportunity to implement it themselves. Did you know that WordPerfect was at one time available for DOS, Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Apple IIe, VMS, Data General, System/370, AmigaOS, Atari ST, OS/2 and NextSTEP? Anyone remember Lotus 123, Quattro Pro, Netscape Navigator or Real Player?
A platform play, as former Microsoft Marketing team members Zagula and Tong call it in their excellent Marketing Playbook, is a powerful position to be in if you can get there. Facebook got there and it’s beginning to emerge that they didn’t play nice all of the time.
If you’re going to build your business on someone else’s platform, I would evaluate the platform using the criteria below. Test these against Twitter’s API, Facebook, Microsoft Windows, WordPress Themes and Plugins API, Android and the iPhone App Store:
1. Is the business still a “startup” or have they stabilised into a going concern with a clear business model and value proposition.
2. Is it possible you’ll discover their business model for them and they’ll copy your idea and leave you out in the cold?
3. Is the platform owner going to be around 5 years from now?
4. If they’re still raising money expect big changes when they stop spending and try to turn a profit. Can you handle those changes?
5. Is there a risk you’ll compete with another part of their business?
6. Is a competitor of yours closer to the platform owner than you are?
7. Is the API constantly changing or has it stabilised?
8. Is the platform stable, well designed and fast?
9. Does the platform owner have a competitor you might do well to bet on instead?
More software companies have bet on platforms or API’s owned by others than those that haven’t. As an early stage technology company you usually need to “go along before you get along” if you plan on generating any meaningful revenue early in your company’s life. Choose wisely.
You can read the full story of “Audio” and how it died on Faraz’s blog post “I was once a Facebook Fool“. Faraz’s story seems to contradict the reporting of Audio’s demise back in 2007, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a libel lawsuit or two emerge from this.