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These days it may seem like just about every company on the web is building its own development platform. Enticed by the success of platforms like those offered by Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce, more and more companies are deciding to give third party developers the ability to make their products and services better.
Yet as we have seen time and time again, building and managing a development platform can be very difficult. For that reason, companies need to be prepared and strategic if they hope to build a successful platform that can thrive long-term. Here are ten tips for doing just that.
Manage expectations. As with most things in life and business, expectations are everything. This is, of course, true when it comes to development platforms. When developers know what to expect, they can make educated decisions about their investments in your platform.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. If there's one thing that frustrates developers more than anything else, it just might be a lack of communication. When running a development platform, be sure that you're communicating on a regular basis with developers.
Listen. Developers aren't simply capable of helping you make your products and services better; they're capable of helping you make your platform better too. You have to listen to them though.
Open is good, in moderation. As Twitter has learned the hard way, letting third parties develop just about anything on top of your service is a great way to get really, really popular, but it will eventually limit your ability to control parts of your service and business that you later decide you want or need to control and exploit. That's why offering a platform that is as open is possible generally isn't a good idea.
Don't try to be everything to everybody. At the end of the day, a company's goal in creating a development platform should be to increase value, both for the company and for the businesses and individuals it serves. How a platform is structured and what it offers developers should be focused on areas in which you believe developers can create more value more quickly than you can. Everything else doesn't matter, so don't try to build a platform that's everything to everybody.
Volume is overrated. How many developers does it take to create value? In many cases, not very many. Just as with affiliate programs, for instance, the bulk of the value created via a development platform will be created by a small number of the most prolific developers.
Don't make promises you aren't sure you can keep. When Facebook launched its development platform, it told developers that they'd be able to monetize their applications and keep the revenue. That's not exactly the case today. Because it's very difficult to anticipate how your business will evolve, it's typically best to avoid making promises to developers that you cannot keep. Instead, explain your current thinking and be honest about if and how things might change over time.
Treat developers consistently. While it's natural to treat prominent developers differently than 'the rest' of your developers, striving to treat everyone the same is a prerequisite for building trust.
Avoid ambiguity. A stable platform is one in which developers understand their role and the rules of the game. When you start redefining the roles and rules, it creates uncertainty, which is just as unhealthy to a development platform as it is to an economy.
Think twice before launching a development platform. Development platforms are popular for all of their many virtues. Which is why so many tech companies are building their own. Yet not every tech company needs a development platform, and the resources that must be invested to build and operate a good one can easily be underestimated. That's why it's worth doing a thorough analysis of your needs, abilities and opportunities before jumping in head first.