Platform thinking

So the New York Times is building an API -- and that doesn't stand for American Press Institute. Why is that significant? Here's a slide from one of my presentations that I use to explain APIs and "platform thinking."

The concept of "platform" is common in the computer industry. A platform is something on which others can build.

A computer is a platform if someone other than the manufacturer can program it. An operating system is a platform if someone else can write applications that use it. This is so basic to the computer industry that we may forget that it even exists, but it's important.

When you choose to make your thing into a platform, you make a trade. You give up some control. But in exchange, you allow someone else to make your platform more valuable, more important, more essential. Windows + Office has one value; Windows + Office + third-party applications like Quark, InDesign, Photoshop, etc., has a higher value, so this principle even applies to rapacious giants.

To encourage others to build on your platform, you create and document an Application Programming Interface, which is what API stands for in this context. Web sites can provide APIs. Facebook has an API; OpenSocial defines an API. But it's not at all limited to social networking. has a great index of APIs provided by websites where the developers have grasped this concept.

And it's important to realize that platform thinking, when applied to news sites, doesn't have to be restricted to application development. Platform thinking is about how people can build with an emphasis on people. Technology is just incidental.

Inviting your users to add their information to your website -- even if it's as simple as commenting -- is platform thinking, too.

So there you go. You were a platform thinker all along, and just didn't know it.