Ecosystems: Riding on Them, and Creating Them

3329-3209857028_bfd4808319_m.jpgMy friend Chris Brogan wrote a thinking peice last month on “Amazon and the Kindle Conspiracy” that many overlooked but I think warrants a deeper leadership discussion.

Chris discusses how Amazon went from book distributor to pretty much anything distributor, and how he suggests that the Kindle could do the same thing. He talks about how the Kindle also isn’t just a phyiscal device. You can have the Kindle on your iPhone, iPad, desktop, etc. It’s a distribution platform that lives on other platforms, something we talked about recently with Your Business, Ubiquitous.

That’s a big discussion there. Then Chris goes deeper into what is my favourite part of the post:

Don’t look at the device. Don’t fret about the device. Think of it as yet another way to gain ground in distribution. Keep your eyes on this, and also think about how this impacts your business. Think further on whether there are ways you could do distribution differently (better, partnered) and what that would give you.

This immediately makes me think of ecosystems. Consider Apple’s App Store and iTunes ecosystem. The devices that they can plug into this are potentially numerous, and as Chris suggests, it’s not really about the device – it’s the distribution of the ecosystem.

The way I see it, ecosystems are about flow of the river, the devices are the boat, and the person is the person. A good ecosystem means that a number of different boats can be on it in order to get people where they need to be. iTunes and the App Store is an ecosystem that allows many boats – the innovator boats, the late majority boats, the home boats, the work boats, etc.

I’m now seeing what were boats now become ecosystems in their own right. Consider Evernote, which is the handy note tool that remembers everything. Evernote created an API, and now with Evernote Trunk, serves as an ecosystem to boats that now ride upon it.

Facebook is an ecosystem, and so is Twitter. They are rivers that boats can flow on. Applications can be built for them. Communities live on them. You get the idea.

Riding on The Wave

The trick for startups and new things now is to use these ecosystems – to ride on their waves – in order to get our users to where they need to be. As Chris said in starting, the Kindle is about distribution. Why create a new ecosystem when a perfectly good ecosystem already exists that can distribute your boats where they need to be?

This is where socialising channels comes into play. Socialising our channels means getting your content to the places where people already are – the water coolers. If Facebook is where your people are, use that. If it’s Amazon, use that. If it’s the Kindle, use that. Ride the wave that gets your content distributed.

Creating Waves

The other option is to be the one building ecosystems – buliding the distribution channels that others can use. I’d be careful here. I’d only build an ecosystem where one doesn’t already exist.

That’s what we’re doing with Like Minds. I’ve noticed that the communities which are the most useful are the ones that become an ecosystem for others to sail on. The community and the events attached to it become enablers for the lives of others.

But the trick here is that we have to do it in a unique way – one of which being the Like Minds Club, something that I don’t know of any other event / community doing. The aim of the working club is to be an enabler for others to ride their  boats along – whatever business, endeavour, need, etc, they might have.

I would say therefore, if was trying to define an ecosystem in a digital way, I’d say they are a platform that enable third parties and users to build and live from in a way that enhances their productivity through synergy with other users and shared benefits.

Your Leading Thoughts

As a leading and thinking person, your input here is valued and adds to the discussion and to this blog. Focus in on ecosystems right now, and use these points to help the discussion:

  1. On a smaller scale, are blogs working as ecosystems?
  2. What are the prerequisites for calling something an ecosystem?
  3. What are the ecosystems that you are tied into?

Photo courtesy of Storm Crypt

Archived Comments

  • In my opinion an ecosystem is something that goes beyond the horizontal flow of a river. A place that enables all elements constituting it’s make up to organically move in every conceivable direction, at what ever pace necessary (independent from what ever governing body established or highlighted an ecosystem in the first place).

    Are Facebook, Amazon, iTunes, LikeMinds or it’s new club, true ecosystems and not just examples of the different vehicles ecosystem inhabitants can travel by?

  • This is an interesting question at corporate level.

    Should your business plug into existing ecosystems? (Benefits: salesforce.com like scale, benefit from the ecosystems development… Weaknesses: Security concerns, loss of control / SLAs)

    Should your business expose its core function as a platform? (Benefits: Improved volume, Open to Innovation. Weaknesses: Security concerns, Not invented here syndrome).

    The business world is slowly waking up to the realisation that the world is again changing. There are not many execs who understand how fundamental the idea of economies of scale become when you have an open platform… but they do certainly fear the risks.

    How can your business plug in to the right platforms and value networks (ecosystems)? – The value chain analysis of “they are our preferred supplier because we give them volume” applies a lot less in a platform world. Ideally your business platform needs to be able to link to the best, and curate the rest.

    Companies do not see the threat this poses them. Their old business model still works (especially as you dig into the finance or manufacturing sector). It is a tough mindset change.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    Ecosystems is one of my 3 words for 2010. My words are my guiding goals and principles and areas that need work all wrapped into one thing. In my case, I wanted “ecosystem” to remind me that things don’t exist in a vacuum, and that the more I work my projects to be part of an ecosystem, the better the overall experience goes.

    Great post, and wonderful extensions. : )

  • http://blog.ecairn.com Laurent Pfertzel

    Scott
    I do think that blogs are part of an ecosystems. At eCairn, we specialize in mapping those ;-) …you know a bit more now that we’ve talked.
    There are super dense ecosystems of bloggers out there on niche topics that are extremely diverse such as ‘social media’, ‘beauty’, ‘computer security’, ‘Arsenal fans’. Seth Godin call them ‘tribes’.
    Ecosystem are ‘focused’, ‘open’ (including they don’t rely on one tool to achieve what they want to achieve), ‘highly connected inside’ (their survival is because of those connections vs the number of members in them), ‘self managed’…and more of course ;-)
    Laurent

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Phil

    Sure – the metaphor can certainly be extended. I just wrote the first thing that came to mind!

    I would say iTunes, Amazon, Facebook are ecosystems and not vehicles. No doubt in my mind, in fact. They are the distribution channels that others live on.

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks as always for the comment Chris. I did think it was a good post of yours and raising some deep thinking that many seem to be overlooking.

    And thanks for the compliments, albeit it was a rather late night post and not my best at all!

    Scott

  • / Scott Gould

    Laurent – good thoughts!

    Do you think Ecosystems don’t rely on one tool and are open? I consider iTunes and Amazon too very powerful ecosystems that are not fully open at all…

    What do you think?

    Scott

  • / Scott Gould

    Sy

    Good angle on this. Would you say salesforce is an ecosystem though? Isn’t it a platform?

    Here’s where it gets muddy I think. I consider Ecosystems to be like playgrounds where different people meet – but it’s never really where you invest your technology.

    If i use iTunes as an ecosystem to distribute, I also should be distributing other ways too.

    You know what I mean?

    Scott

  • http://blog.ecairn.com Laurent Pfertzel

    Scott. May be it’s just me and, besides, words are just concepts linked to ones experience, aren’t they ;-0?.
    But I see iTunes and Amazon as platform. An ecosytem is not linked to a tool but lives above and beyond them ;-) . Say someone replace iTunes with something better for the organism in the ecosystem, the ecosystem will move there. Look at Android biting the dominance of iphone little by little.

  • / Scott Gould

    Ok – so what would you say *are* Ecosystems? Give me some examples :-)

    Scott

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