As Phil Wainewright points out, the platform as a service (PaaS) wars are ramping up with the arrival of Google App Engine. And while there will be preferences around Python or Ruby, stack or ala carte -- there's one ingredient that Google and Microsoft/Yahoo (sure to follow suit) can bring to the table that sets them apart, makes them the kingmakers.
And that is the APIs that will expose the newbie apps to the huge respective audiences already gorging themselves on the cloud's burgeoning offerings -- from search to news to blogs to social networks to videos to maps to weather reports. More services makes it a richer cloud experience, so come on down and sign in, please!
Google and Microsoft/Yahoo are not just functional clouds, they are the long tail channels to the vast online audiences, and they can link the right apps to the right users very well, massively. And they can automate the marriage between a service and a customer by scaling it up to nation-wide exposure, or scaling it down to an audience of one. The more users, the more audience for the apps. The more apps, the more users. And so on.
So you build an application on their cloud and they can bring you massive traffic almost overnight. They can allow for single sign-on to your apps from many millions of users already logged in, already identified by their metadata preferences and attention gestures. The web is great, but the integrated cloud is even better.
The clouds can give you, dear developer/entrepreneur, a tasty share of the revenues chugging out of their respective advertising platform engines. All you creative types, just build out the compelling content, services, apps and media, and together -- you and your cloud provider -- can make beautiful business together.
You shouldn't have to worry about attracting an audience and advertisers. The cloud will do all of that for you. (No need for media companies, either.) You just need to invest your creativity, your business acumen, your attention. The cloud is here for you.
Yes, the PaaS wars will soon munge into the metadata wars. Here's how it works: Developers and media creatives build and post innovative web apps, content and services using the cloud tools, publishing platforms and cloud runtime -- all for free. You can mash up other great services from the cloud ecology to make those apps even better. A favor's a favor.
Then, the cloud will match up your services with an audience that the algorithms know wants and loves these services and content. We already see this with blogs, video, podcasts, social discussions, etc.
It's a great vision except there's also a potential downside: You gotta choose your cloud, your Big Brother. Just like a protection racket, it might turn out. Easy to join, not so easy to get out. One big Family.
[UPDATE: Silicon Alley Insider's Nate Westheimer gets it right that App Engine is also aimed at Facebook, but misses the metadata angle. Facebook's metadata on its user base is what attracts developers who can tap the audience intelligently, not the hosting aspects outright.]
And the Family, or cloud entity, can make instant stars of an application or service. The cloud with the best metadata can combine users and content/services. The cloud with the most users and the best data about them wins. It's the new muscle. This is why Microsoft must attain Yahoo, and why Yahoo is right to hold out for more money.
I'm not saying abuse is assured. I'm only saying that the handful of clouds will be hugely powerful. Perhaps more powerful than any mainstream media ever was. And they may not do any evil, may remain a great partner and provide the garden that sprouts a million dazzling businesses and a creative nirvana.
But on the other hand, these goombahs at the Cloud, Inc. may want to make you an offer you can't refuse. But you gotta join da gang, see, and stay close to the home, boys. You know, for protection, from the other Cloud, the other goombahs.
Stick with us, kid, and we'll make you rich, they will say. Don't go to the other side, they are closed and proprietary. See?
Yes, the gangsta cloud wars is what we're coming up on. And you're only going to have a handful of gangs to choose from. And you may well make the choice for the rest of the life of your applications.