In Phil Simon’s excellent new book, The Age of the Platform, he writes about how platforms have become more important than ever. He focuses on Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google–aka, the Gang of Four. Beyond those ever-present companies, he discusses emerging platforms like WordPress and Twitter.
At TorranceLearning, the elearning company I run, we leverage platforms like crazy for many reasons. As Phil describes in his book, we use platforms as key pieces or planks in our own platform. First, because of their ubiquity and constant evolution, platforms do the heavy lifting. This means that we can we jump on and enjoy the ride. As a small business, we just don’t have time to reinvent the wheel every week.
But this notion of platforms beyond Google Docs and a Facebook page. It’s not just about the usual suspects. Our new website will use WordPress, a content management system and website platform that allows users to build sites with little to no programming. The community provides templates, plug-ins, and widgets and patrols against hackers. This isn’t 1997; you don’t have to be a techie to build a website. Nor do you have to spend tens of thousands of dollars.
In the book, Phil writes about the evolution of Amazon.com. To be sure, we order books from Amazon.com. And we buy our electronics and office supplies and toys there, too. That’s easy. Amazon’s new “Subscribe and Save” program lets us sign up to receive a shipment of Clif Bars and dishwasher detergent and all sorts of mundane staples on a monthly basis so we don’t have to think about it anymore. Plus, we get a 15 percent discount and free shipping on whatever we buy.
Beyond using existing platforms, however, we recognize the need to build platforms for our own clients. Let me give you an example. We offer a turnkey learning management platform – we call it “LearnZilla” – to our clients who want to provide elearning to their customers. The Department of Neurology at the University of Michigan uses LearnZilla to offer concussion education courses to youth and high school sports coaches far beyond their geographic scope. They’ve got the content, and we used it to build the course.
But that’s just the starting point.
LearnZilla is more than just a standalone course. It’s so much more. In fact, its the platform that enables the University of Michigan extend exponentially its reach–and in unexpected ways.
Looking ahead, tiny company has some pretty big plans. And those plans couldn’t include shipping our elearning courseware to thousands, even millions, of potential users. All of this would be impossible without mobile devices, app stores, developers, the social web, APIs, and SDKs.
In the Age of the Platform, the sky’s the limit. So, how do you start? Well, building a platform takes time and Phil’s book is rife with practical advice. But here’s a teaser–three ways to build your platform.
- Use Existing Platforms as Planks in Your Own. Why do you think that Google has an official Twitter page and Amazon has an official YouTube channel. These companies realize that conversations take place everywhere. Follow their lead.
- Ditch that 90s Site. Websites evolve–or at least they should. If you haven’t given your site a makeover and integrated recent features, isn’t about time that yo should?
- Be Patient. Facebook didn’t start out with 850 million users; it started with one. Those of you who think that you can explode immediately are in all likelihood wrong.
Now, start building your platform.
About the Author
Megan Torrance runs TorranceLearning, based just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The company designs and develops custom elearning for corporate and non-profit organizations.