iPods, platforms and ecosystems

Lorcan 2 min read

There is an interesting article in Forbes suggesting that the closed approach that Apple is taking with iTunes and the iPod will lead to their decline.

In an ecosystem, all the players share some key components. Devices that can read the Windows version of digital music (WMA) all share the song base, and almost all can use subscription services such as Napster and Yahoo’s Music Unlimited. (Already, Napster and Ericsson have announced they’ll cooperate on a wireless version of Napster’s online music service capable of delivering tunes directly to cell phones.) Many non-Apple devices, by contrast, can’t use iTunes, just as iPods don’t work with WMA. This closed system made sense for the iPod’s launch phase, but once the music ecosystem has the capacity for far more experimentation — and that will happen any minute — even Apple, a profoundly innovative company, won’t be able to keep pace. [In Praise of Ecosystems]

The web 2.0 style discussion about platforms seems intimately connected with the idea of an ecoystem – that multiple partners together build value in different combinations. Amazon, for example, seems to have been able to generate an ecosystem of other providers who remix Amazon data or services within their own. I do not know, though, what proportion of Amazon revenue comes from these sources.
One way of thinking about some of the current discussion about the catalog and library services is that they need to be more readily available as platform components within the broader ecosystem of research, learning and information management tools. A similar point might be made about the general library supply ecosystem and libraries. Libraries will need to be able to more readily build out their services on top of platform components from their suppliers. We are on the cusp of this type of thinking at the moment, and one can point to some examples, but it will take a step change in thinking and systems capacities to move us there.
A small example? We tend to talk about the integration of library services, one stop shops, portals, and so on. I would argue that integration of library resources should not be pursued as an end in itself, but rather as a means to better integrate resources into user behaviors. Here is a recent comment by Roy Tennant:

We see metasearch software as merely an integrative infrastructure that will allow us to stitch together easy and effective access to licensed database content, remote repositories that surface their metadata for harvesting, and web sites that can be crawled and indexed. We envision a database recommender tool that will begin by suggesting other databases to search and that will eventually allow us to dynamically create a metasearch tailored to a specific query. We seek, in other words, a rich infrastructure that enables librarians to craft rich and yet easy to use and effective search services on behalf of a certain clientele with particular needs. [ � Blog Archive � Metasearch – Everybody knows]

It is good to see this move away from thinking of metasearch only as some central web presence, but as a way of creating custom services. This is aligned with the broader ‘platform’ strategy of the California Digital Library – to make infrastructure available upon which other services can be built within the broader UC ecosystem. Rather than building monolithic silos without machine interfaces. Now, we may be some way away from the low-entry connectedness which will facilitate facile stitching, but it is a notable direction.

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