Phil Simon’s newest book, The Age of the Platform , is the kind of book to read if you want to better understand the Internet and how your company can fit into it and create a business model to profit from it.
The subtitle “How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business” gives further clues of what this book is about. Simon refers to these four companies as the “Gang of Four.” It’s a term first used by Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, to describe four tech companies that are growing at “unprecedented rates.”
What is a Platform?
The premise of the book is that these four companies have created not just companies, not just technology. They’ve created platforms — and platforms are something that YOU can leverage with a small business. Or you can create your own smaller platform.
What’s a platform? It’s a valuable and powerful technology ecosystem. It scales and grows quickly. It serves customers, yes. But it also serves vendors and partners, who use it for their own business purposes. A platform embraces third-party collaboration. The platform, he says, is “becoming one of the most important business models of the new millennium” and “new companies are hitching their wagons on the platform.”
Platforms have benefits and they have their downsides. Benefits for you include a place to sell and distribute your content (Amazon or Apple’s iTunes) or promote your business (Google or Facebook). To understand the benefits of a platform, you have to understand consumer behavior. Simon says that consumers “want one-stop shopping, even at the expense of missing out on ‘the best’ app or service. They like platforms; they don’t want to manage 100 different devices, sites, and services.”
Of course, the downsides include the fact that a platform may end up becoming your competitor. Or it may just go out of fashion (think MySpace), leaving you to have to re-establish a foothold on another platform. Therefore, you must be fluid and nimble, and able to change as circumstances change.
About The Author
The author (@PhilSimon  on Twitter) is a technology expert and former tech consultant. We had Simon on my radio show to discuss this concept of platform (go here listen to the 30-minute audio interview  if you’d like to hear more in the author’s own voice). I was intrigued and he offered to send me a review copy so I could share more with you.
A Lot to Like About This Book
If you love to read about Google and Amazon — or are amazed at the growth of Facebook or how Apple can keep churning out new products that continue to delight — then you will love this book for that reason alone. These are history-making companies. We are seeing in real time how they change consumers’ lives. And, as the book points out, we are seeing how they are changing the Internet since roughly 2005.
I know I can hardly resist reading a good article about these companies and how they are changing the Web. I’m fascinated. But reading an article here and there gives you a fragmented view. Reading a book gives you a broader view of the landscape, and puts more in context. You capture more of the nuances. You get a better understanding when you read a book.
Another thing to like about this book is the way it gets you thinking about how to use the platforms of the Gang of Four (and other smaller platforms) to benefit your own business. It’s a book that raises more questions to think about, than perhaps it answers. That’s actually a good thing. After all, to build our businesses using the Internet we have to first open our minds and understand enough to know the possibilities.
Who Should Read This Book
This is a book for anyone with a business that is using the Internet to generate revenues — or wants to. If you produce content and want to promote or sell it online, read this book. If you create apps and need to get those apps to the populace, read this book. If you have developed technology or a product and need to market it, read this book.
If you are struggling with your online business model, or finding that your business model has to evolve due to circumstances outside your control, read this book.
It is NOT a how-to book in the true sense of the term. You will not be presented with chapter after chapter of detailed steps to take to create your own platform or learn to use the platforms of other companies. Yes, there is a chapter of about 30 pages called “The How: Tips for Building a Platform.” But you will have to do the thinking and heavy lifting to build your platform and learn to leverage others.
Still, not every book needs to be a how-to. It’s an important book in the sense of understanding the big picture and how your business can fit in. We liked it so much that our Book Editors added it to our list of Top Technology Books. If you want to learn more you can read the foreword and listen to the Introduction in audio, on the book’s website .
I recommend you read The Age of The Platform  to start sparking ideas for where to take your business in the future.