We’re A Utility, Not A Platform

Is there a Buzzcyclopedia? (Hang on, let me check that wonderful utility, Google. Nope. That’s a freebee for anyone who wants to be famous.)

Well, if there was a Buzzcylopedia (I’m starting to think this is a catchy name) it would be chock full of the little words entrepreneurs throw in to get an investor’s attention:

  • “disruptive”
  • “we’re the Facebook of <some niche where they think Facebook isn’t dominant (hah!)>”
  • “revolutionary”
  • “social network”
  • “formerly of Google”
  • “once sat next to Dave McClure on a plane” (fine, I meant he was on the other side of the aisle, 3 rows up)
  • “we’re on Angel List”
  • “Angry Birds” (I just threw that in here to get your attention)

However, the most overused buzzword I’ve seen and heard in presentations over the last few years has been “platform”.  “We’re a platform for…”, “Using our platform…”, “We intend to become a platform…”. You get the idea.

My reaction usually is: MS Windows is a platform. Salesforce.com is a platform. WordPress is a platform. Are you Windows/Salesforce/WordPress? Typically they then casually retreat to figure out some far more oblique buzzword that would be harder to attack.

“Platform” has waned, “Utility” is in.

Now everyone wants to be a utility. Utilities are great. If you own both the Electric Company and the Water Works, not to mention the B&O, Reading, and Pennsylvania lines, you’ll make a killing.

Except that web sites aren’t utilities. ISPs, for that matter, aren’t considered utilities (yet), although the idea of Internet access as a universal human right has been put forth. (Personally I think that water, food and shelter should come first, but I’m just a small, occasional, high-tech blogger.)

But seriously, the electric company – the real one – is a utility. So is the water company, sewage service, phone company, and natural gas provider. To be somewhat pedantic, and accurate, they are all Public Utilities (Wikipedia: an organization that maintains the infrastructure for a public service, or the services themselves). In other words, utilities are big-league things on which many people rely upon for an essential service.

Your baseball-trivia website is not a utility, no matter how many hits it gets. (Oops, didn’t realize there was a pun in there. Too bad my Backspace key doesn’t work)

I do, however, think that there are a very few true Internet Utilities. Among them: Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Each of them does one thing and does it very well. The exception, perhaps, is Google, which does one thing very well (although not as well as it used to), while trying to reach out in many other directions and is doing, well, not so good.

Now repeat after me “I’m not a utility, I’m a _______”


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