My friend and former colleague Chad Dickerson has a great post about Facebook developers reliving the perennial platform-developer’s nightmare: if you build something really wonderful, sooner or later the platform owner incorporates what you invented into the core software.
This line should be savored:
As the old Santayana quote goes, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” but in Silicon Valley, those who rely on their command of history too much often find themselves getting crushed by a 23-year-old who skipped history class in favor of a CS degree.
The platform developer’s dilemma goes back a long way: among other things, to the early days of Dave Winer’s web writing (he’d experienced the phenomenon when he saw his own Macintosh scripting environment eclipsed by Apple’s less versatile in-house effort). But it goes even farther back than that — back before Windows. In the 80s, DOS dominated the world, but you couldn’t really run DOS without a zillion helper utilities. Over time and successive DOS releases many of these helper utilities were incorporated into the OS. Much of the time this was a Good Thing for users, and many of the utilities were freeware anyway, but if you’d tried to build a for-profit business around some essential extension to DOS, you were on shaky ground — and Microsoft was the beast causing the tremors.
Chad locates the difference in today’s software world in the speed of development:
Velocity changes everything. As the developers dance faster in this new environment, so too does the platform elephant. The faster the elephant dances, the more likely “the little people” underneath (as Ariana calls platform developers in the News.com story) could get unwittingly trampled in the process.
Very true. But in the end, I think, developers understandably flock toward any platform on which large numbers of users have pitched their tents — true for DOS decades ago, Facebook today, and who knows what tomorrow.
PS I’m reasonably sure the canonical version of the Santayana quotation is:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
But the Web is full of variations. And those who cannot remember their quotes are condemned to wander the Web’s copycat quote pages!
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