Mozilla's move to build social networking features into its browser has spawned a series of potential ripple effects. TechCrunch's Michael Arrington notes that startup Flock could take a hit. Others add that it's dangerous to build solely on another company's technology.
For Flock, which is built on Mozilla's technology, the dangers of building on Mozilla's technology will become abundantly clear. CenterNetworks' Allen Page has some straightforward advice:
Build your own app. Leverage other technology where it makes sense but don't put all your eggs in someone else's basket. And if you do, understand that your position can change in an instant.
Page's advice makes a lot of sense and I've heard other executives, notably Zillow CTO David Beitel, make similar points. Beitel said in a December Q&A:
"Accessing the software of others can give you quicker builds, but you have to read the fine print and pick and choose. You have to make sure your partner will be around three years down the road and have contingencies in place."
Beitel pointed out what many newly minted startups may find out the hard way: The API game is a gamble. A larger point to be explored is what does borrowing APIs really mean for Web 2.0. If few of these companies have truly defensible technology how are startups going to survive? For instance, if MySpace features are built into Firefox why would someone visit MySpace. That point may be a bit extreme, but you get the idea.
To be sure building on someone else's APIs has always been a gamble. But in the Web 2.0 world the fallout could be more pronounced--many startups are mashups of borrowed technology.
So how exactly to you decide to borrow instead of build? A few points to ponder:
I'm sure there are more considerations to consider with picking APIs, but the big theme is that it's always a gamble. The key is to know and manage the risks. Comments on the topic welcome.