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Are developer ecosystems a measure of a product’s worth?

I read an argument this week which suggested that a (software) product's success or worth can best be gauged by looking at the strength of the ecosystem that surrounds it. For a software product this ‘ecosystem-yardstick’ might perhaps be measured by how active the user groups are that support it or whether the number of third-party products that work with it are increasing or decreasing.
Written by Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor on

I read an argument this week which suggested that a (software) product's success or worth can best be gauged by looking at the strength of the ecosystem that surrounds it. For a software product this ‘ecosystem-yardstick’ might perhaps be measured by how active the user groups are that support it or whether the number of third-party products that work with it are increasing or decreasing.

Having been involved with user groups for some years now, I would have to go along with this argument for the most part. Although I would hasten a word of caution if you were to go to the top of the tree and look at the MSDN or even Oracle’s developer ‘boys club’ as these are supported by a greater weight of corporate funding than most.

Sniffing around for some comment on this subject between the web and my email address book of contacts I received a comment from the Guardian’s celebrated tech journo and top Twitter Tweeter Charles Arthur who said that, “I think it's the hardware product that gets the ecosystem e.g. iPods/iPhones; PCs etc. Software rarely gets an ecosystem.”

Not to quote Charles out of context I qualified my comment and suggested that it was developer user groups and the like of which I spoke and he concurred, while also suggesting that within the software space APIs are, “The killer app… or rather, the killer app enabler.” Perhaps something that user groups themselves fail to embrace at the heart of their messaging.

Looking further afield for comment, I spoke to Ian Skerrett who is director of marketing at Eclipse Foundation who told me that, “I think it depends on the software product. For products that form a platform this is definitely true. If you look at Eclipse, Firefox, Linux, Apache web server and even Windows (in the early days) they all have grown very successful ecosystems.”

“The value of the ecosystem is that it helps complete the 'total' solution for an individual customer. If you have read Crossing the Chasm, it stipulates a 'whole product' view that includes training, documentation, books, add-on products, consultants, etc. Stronger ecosystems enable stronger 'whole products'.”

Skerrett also suggested that in the Eclipse world, one of the reasons that Eclipse remains popular is the ecosystem citing the fact that you often hear people talk about the number of different plug-ins for Eclipse as a reason they don't use a competing product.

If you are interested in reading more on this subject you might like to get hold of a book called The Keystone Advantage – which is subtitled: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation and Sustainability.

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