In his post about “The Dark Side of Platform Development,” USV Analyst Andrew Parker makes some important observations about the territory we’re in with BricaBox and talks about the perills of building a platform which relies on free web services (APIs). I’ve been a little mum about BricaBox specifics on this blog, but I couldn’t help but react to Andrew’s post, and in so doing I’m revealing a little about how we’re thinking about these issues and how they affect our product.
Because I’ve posted that comment (and because Charlie has been getting on me about not being more open about the product) I’d like to talk a little more about what BricaBox “is” and is up to:
To start, BricaBox is a publishing platform. It allows you to create a web site much in the sense a blogging platform allows you to create “site” (don’t you hate when people refer to it as just a site, though? It’s a blog! – or in our case, it’s a BricaBox!). Also like a blog, you can “have” one of these sites, or just visit one.
Our platform allows you to make your BricaBox about anything you want, but it’s especially designed for content which has a theme and is composed consistently (like a list of places, people, companies, words, ideas, to-dos, etc). If your content is of one of those broad categories, our platform connects your data to some of the web’s most useful APIs, allowing you to see that content mashed-up in a bunch of interesting ways without knowing any programming. What more, BricaBox has a smart permission system which will allow you to invite a broader community to contribute (like a wiki) and engage (like YouTube) with the content you’re publishing.
As you can see, one of the reasons I’ve been avoiding talking too much about BricaBox until it’s in the public eye is because it’s rather heady. To paraphrase the words of a (different) VC analyst I’ve shown BricaBox to, “This could be like Blogger, before people knew the significance of blogging.” We’ll certainly let history runs its course without making such claims ourselves, but now you see what direction things would have to go in for us to be successful.
Anyway, I hope you find this information and my comments to Andrew useful in understanding what we’re up to. Also, I hope to get more people looking at the platform soon so we can continue to get valuable feedback.
Comments to Andrew:
This is a very interesting note. You’re right – these issues do not go un-addressed by teams developing applications and platforms which rely on the services (in some cases free) of others (especially when those “others” have such an ability to reinvent your wheel overnight).
On the data pipeline control issue, we have a belief that all services on the web are best publicly available, and – here’s the important part – the more folks who have access and ability to use these services as they see fit, the more likely they are to stay free and available to folks who have access and ability to use them. This is a common balancing act on the Internet, but ultimately both API service providers and ourselves want to see web services in the hands of people. We think creating a platform for that to happen adds to this natural, democratic process.
On the second point, indeed the Goliaths can come out with their own versions of applications, functions, and platforms, but they can’t always communicate the value of their product as effectively as an independent company focused on that one thing. Google’s replacement of boutique RSS readers with the Reader app may be easier to predict because there’s only so much one can do to differentiate a product which receives consistently formatted information over a set protocol – and Google can do it. But for a product like a blogging platform, the Big Cos. can still have their product out and doing well (i.e. Blogger) while other companies exist happily, earning revenue, innovating and building value for their users, investors, and the broader Internet community (i.e. Six Apart’s several, eventually acquired products, tumbler, Twitter, to reference a few).
So my reaction to your post, in a nut shell, is this: Yes we lose sleep over these issues, but no it doesn’t phase us. Anyway, it’s my over simplification to say that if these services and platforms are really valuable enough that we’re worried about how Google compete, then we’re in the right business.