A Sunnyvale, California, company called Play provides a subscription service for LEGO sets. You create a wish list, and after you return one choice, Play sends the next one. Its model is similar to Netflix in the old days when you received a new DVD after returning the one you had.
Play is part of the LEGO ecosystem and provides a simple service to people who like to build, but not keep new sets. The presence of an ecosystem with players like Play increases the satisfaction of using a product. Thousands of Android developers, for example, make owning an Android phone more satisfying.
Also, an ecosystem signals that your product is successful enough to have an ecosystem. Your work must be good if other companies are building upon it. Anti-example: the lack of apps for the Microsoft Windows smartphone signals that it’s not successful—and it won’t be successful until there are more apps!
These are the major components of an ecosystem:
CONSULTANTS. These folks have expertise in helping others install and use products. They increase the utility of your work, and they have a vested interest in your success because they can provide their services only as long as your product continues to sell.
DEVELOPERS. Whether it’s a gaming box-like Xbox, a computer operating system like Macintosh, or an online service like Twitter, developers are a huge reason for a platform’s success and survival. These people create games, applications, and services that increase the utility of the forum.
RESELLERS. Stores and dealers provide a convenient way for people to try and to buy your product. They spread the word for you, and they provide credibility—”BestBuy isn’t going to stock a piece of junk.”
USER GROUPS. During the darkest moments of Apple’s struggle to make Macintosh a success in the 1980s and 1990s, there were hundreds of Macintosh fanatics who voluntarily ran user groups. These groups provided information, support, and enthusiasm when Apple could not or would not.
WEBSITES AND BLOGS. Enthusiasts, often consultants and developers in their off-hours, operate websites and blogs dedicated to a particular product. Try searching Google for “WordPress blog” to see how the WordPress ecosystem makes it a better tool. The existence of such sites assists and reassures both customers and potential customers.
ONLINE SPECIAL-INTEREST GROUPS AND COMMUNITIES. Fans of companies and products form special-interest groups on the Internee-for example, the Bluetooth Special Internet Group. At these websites, people exchange ideas, seek and provide support, and blow off steam. If your product affects many people, the chances are good that they will form one of these about what you’re doing.
CONFERENCES. You know your product has arrived when you’re big enough to hold a meeting for it. And when you own a forum for your work, it helps you grow big because people believe that only products that have achieved critical mass can pull off a conference.
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