How to Set it And Forget it in Silicon Valley

Reporter’s Notebook: I just spent a week in Silicon Valley, where the nights are surprisingly cool, even in May, and the highways are wide. And where nobody cares about user-generated content anymore.

Remember how venture capitalists, circa 2006, suddenly discovered you didn’t need editors and writers to run a news site, but just a platform for user-generated content? And that the same went for multitudes of video-sharing, photo-sharing and blogging sites?

Well you can forget all that now, because it’s old news. Even businesses built around the concept — think Google and Facebook — have moved on. I learned as much driving up and down US-101 during my trip to Silicon Valley last week.

Now, the goal at Facebook, Google and other former start-ups once built on user-generated content is to take a step even further back. The user-generated content platform isn’t hands-off enough. They’re building developer platforms instead.

Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo explained how it works when I talked to him in Palo Alto about the recently announced Facebook Platform.

“Now with Platform, we don’t even create the features on Facebook. We just create the platform and then developers create the features and then users create the content,” D’Angelo said.

The idea behind Facebook’s shifted platform is that by opening its APIs and allowing third-party developers to build small applications that tap into what D’Angelo called Facebook’s “social graph” — its users and their relationships with each other — Facebook’s engineers will be able to focus on maintaining and monetizing the platform.

Meanwhile, the thinking goes, Facebook’s millions of active users will instantly reward the most innovative third-party developers with popularity and cash, thus providing incentive to spur more innovation cycles.

While the platform idea might not be as old as, say, Gutenberg’s printing press, it’s certainly not new. Last week,‘s own David Needle called Facebook’s move “a page right out of the playbook of Microsoft.” But while the printing press and the computer operating system are among the more successful platforms in history, so is the Internet.

And nobody knows that better than Google. So it should come as no surprise that Google is right there with Facebook in shifting its focus away from user-generated content platforms to developer platforms.

In a week of big announcements from Google, including the controversial Street View feature for Google Maps, the company’s biggest news focused on developers. Google announced tools for third-party developers, Google Mashup Editor, Mapplets and Gears.

Developers are supposed to use these new tools to build useful applications for the Google network of sites, partner sites and sites reachable through Google search. Google will then focus on monetizing this platform by serving advertisements around these applications.

Google and Facebook aren’t the only ones with the bright idea. Other examples of shifting platforms include’s Apex and AppExchange platforms, all the major operating systems, eBay’s developer programs, and even Yahoo’s Search Marketing Commercial API Program, announced this week.

But don’t worry too much about trying to keep up. If user-generated content is already old news, the developer platform will might head that way, too. It probably already has. That much — and the fact that morning fog will burn off by noon — I learned in Silicon Valley.

Nicholas Carlson is senior writer of

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