Top Underhyped Open Platforms

2008 was definitely a year of open platforms with the continued growth of the Facebook and OpenSocial communities, the unveiling of the iPhone and Android app stores, and the countless Twitter clients and mashups.

Yet I believe there is still considerable untapped opportunity in several promising platforms that have yet to see significant traction in terms of hype, developers, and ultimately end users.

So here is my list of the top underhyped platforms that I hope to see many entrepreneurs build on in 2009.

Webmail Platforms: Yahoo! Mail, Gmail
There are so many interesting problems to solve with email and we as entrepreneurs are finally going to be able to innovate on them with the opening up of the popular webmail platforms.

Just think of the pain that is email today:
  • Constant overload of email volume and very few ways to sort through the clutter
  • A sophisticated and natural social graph locked in email with no easy way to leverage it
  • Endless files shared through email that are problematic to find, store, and share
While companies like Xobni have developed very innovative solutions to these problems on predominant desktop mail clients like Outlook, we can finally bring these and new innovations to the webmail services we all now live by.

Yahoo! Mail, with over 250M users, has announced its application platform, launched a few white listed applications (Xoopit, Wordpress), and plans on opening up more broadly in 2009. Gmail, with 100M users, already has launched several first party gadgets for Gmail (Google Docs, Google Calendar) and has a developer sandbox available for any developer to place Google gadgets in their Gmail sidebar. I expect in 2009 we will see the complete opening up of these platforms and maybe even Windows Live Hotmail, with its 250M users as well.

Professional Networking Platforms: LinkedIn, Xing
I'm glad much of the craze of social networking platforms has died down as I don't think I could take many more vampire bites, food fights, or fluff friend races. These days it looks like the social networking apps that are still driving acquisition and engagement are those of social gaming and while I occasionally dabble with them, I fail to experience any lasting value from them.

However I'm hopeful on professional networking apps as I think they will likely delve deeper and look to provide more real value than their social networking counterparts.

I'm relieved the LinkedIn Platform did finally launch, but so far I've seen too little too late. I do find the Reading List and Blog Link apps useful to see what my colleagues are reading and writing, but there is so much more I hope to see. LinkedIn was smart in their early thinking of the platform in that they were looking to open up not only first degree contacts but also second and third degree to allow innovation on introductions, new contact-related applications, and more. I want to see applications actually start to leverage what is truly unique about LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn app innovation though will continue to be significantly hampered by their closed platform approach that requires an approval for even getting access to the sandbox. I hope LinkedIn decides to open up the sandbox to allow anyone to build innovative applications but then holds a tight review process to ensure it stays professional and relevant.

Xing, a popular German and European professional networking site, has announced its own OpenSocial platform for 2009, so this should provide interesting opportunities in the international space as well.

Cloud Platforms: Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, Windows Azure
Many startups have already built consumer and enterprise apps on top of AWS and are starting to dabble with Google's and Microsoft's own cloud platforms. This has already been a disruptive shift in reducing initial CapEx for startups and helping to bring down both the operational cost and effort for basic infrastructure.

But where I think the significant opportunity is in 2009 is building infrastructure applications on top of these cloud platforms to provide higher level services to other startups looking to more easily leverage these cloud solutions. RightScale, for example, is one such infrastructure play that sits on top of AWS but makes it easy for you to manage and auto-scale your EC2 instances. Heroku is another exciting example of a very high level Ruby on Rails development platform that allows developer to simply focus on their app code and Heroku takes care of the rest in terms of spawning EC2 instances, managing load, and more.

Yet there are still lots of much needed services to be built to support cloud platforms that I expect we'll see much more of as more and more startups move to leveraging the cloud.

Got your own thoughts on an underhyped platform? Leave it in the comments!
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