Business: Schumpeter: The emporium strikes back
Platforms are the future—but not for everyone.
“Interesting thesis, but don’t use the word ‘platform’ in the title. No one knows what it means.”
“论题很有意思，但是标题里不要加 ‘平台’ 这个词，没人明白那是什么意思。”
That was the reaction of a professor at MIT in 2000 upon reading the dissertation of Annabelle Gawer, now co-director of the Centre for Digital Economy at the University of Surrey.
She ignored the advice and kept the title.
If anyone were to counsel Ms Gawer against using the word today, it would be for the opposite reason: overuse.
如果今天再有人劝加威尔女士不要使用 “平台” 这个词，那一定是出于相反的理由：这个词已经被用滥了。
Academic papers on the concept are now legion.
Books are multiplying, too: after “Platform Revolution” in March, this month will see the release of “Matchmakers” (with the p-word in the subtitle) .
相关书籍的数量也成倍增长：在三月份的 “平台革命” 后，即将迎来这个月 “中介” 概念的爆发 (副标题里有 “专业的” 这个词)。
Rare is the startup that does not want to be a platform.
A rapidly growing number of incumbent firms, too, are striving to build platforms.
Yet the professor’s problem remains pertinent: confusion still reigns over what exactly platforms are.
And this, combined with the hype, hides the fact that they are not for everyone.
Broadly defined, platforms are a type of market place where people and businesses trade under a set of rules set by the owner or operator.
Among the first were the emporiums in ancient Greece, designated places near docks where traders could exchange merchandise.
More recently, digitisation and the internet have given rise to a new type that is both marketplace and shared base.
Operating systems are an example, such as Windows for personal computers and Android for smartphones.
操作系统就是一个很好的例子，比如个人电脑上的 “视窗” 操作系统以及智能手机上的安卓系统。
These programs provide basic services that applications developed by others need to run.
Another version is e-commerce sites, including Amazon and eBay, which connect sellers and buyers (hence the title “Matchmakers” ) .
另一个例子是包括亚马逊和易贝等电商网站，他们提供的平台就将买家和卖家连结起来 (所以才叫 “中介” )。
Social networks, too, are platforms: they bring together consumers, advertisers and software developers.
These modern platforms have three things in common.
They are “multi-sided”, meaning they have more than one group of customers.
They exhibit strong “network effects” : a growing group of one sort of customer attracts more of the other, which again draws in more of the first and so on.
“强大的网络效应” : 某类客户群的增长会吸引更多的使用者，以此类推形成正反馈。
And they are controlled by one company, which can dictate the terms of trade, such as what type of businesses are allowed on its digital property and what they have to pay for the privilege.
Such features have allowed American companies in particular to build global digital emporiums that have come to dominate the technology industry.
In late 2015 the 44 platform firms based in Silicon Valley alone boasted a combined market capitalisation of $2.2 trillion, according to the Centre for Global Enterprise (CGE) , a think-tank.
Among them, Apple’s iPhone exemplifies best how to run a platform: anybody can write an app, but it has to pass strict tests and the firm keeps 30% of all sales.