Just Because You Can Scale Doesn't Mean You Should
BY Phil Simon
Online platforms allow for almost unlimited scaling. And that's precisely how your business can get into trouble.
Today's most powerful platforms allow for nearly unlimited scale--that is, there's no real limit to adding more. Depending on the specific platform, more may mean more pages, apps, blog posts, songs, products, or services. As I write in The Age of the Platform, even small businesses can add a bevy of planks to their platforms at minimal cost. However, just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should. In fact, there are often very valid reasons to limit your platform and restrict certain types of content, products, and services.
Consider Amazon for a moment. Does the world's largest bookstore want to sell more stuff? Of course it does, but not at all costs. The better question to ask is: For Amazon, is more the only consideration? In a word, no. Check out the following recent change to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing policy:
Public Domain and Other Non-Exclusive Content Some types of content, such as public domain content, may be free to use by anyone, or may be licensed for use by more than one party. We will not accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the copyright owner of that content. For example, if you received your book content from a source that allows you and others to re-distribute it, and the content is freely available on the web, we will not accept it for sale on the Kindle store. We do accept public domain content, however we may choose to not sell a public domain book if its content is undifferentiated or barely differentiated from one or more other books.
In effect, Amazon is banning computer-generated content with very little or no originality. This "content" actually dilutes the power and stickiness of its platform. In Amazon's case, think of a single e-book with hundreds of slightly different covers and titles. Ultimately, this only benefits spammers and counterfeiters–not Amazon, its customers, or its ecosystem.
Now, you may be thinking that this is censorship and that Amazon's product search functionality should be able to handle what are effectively duplicate copies of the same product.
To be sure, powerful search engines (within and across sites) allow us to theoretically find what we want. However, without routine intervention and tweaks, those search results can return too much crap. In other words, even powerful search engines return far too many irrelevant results unless they are tweaked and policies are refined. The result: We are forced to sift through myriad results to discover new and original works. Who really wants to do that? Hence, Amazon's policy change.
(And Amazon's hardly alone here. Google has on multiple occasions changed its algorithm to effectively punish spammers and site scrapers.)
It's About Leadership, Not Technology
This is why leadership is so important in the Age of the Platform. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and others possess the power to do just about anything they want with their technologies. As we have seen over the past 10 years, they can easily morph into different directions and add new planks to their platforms. The best leaders, companies, and platforms, though, understand that less is sometimes better than more. Don't mistake can for should--especially when the entire ecosystem suffers because of sloppy curation.
PHIL SIMON is a sought-after speaker and the author of five management books. His most recent, Too Big To Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data, will be released in March of 2013 (John Wiley & Sons). @philsimon