Tim O’Reilly Says Don’t Eat the Ecosystem, a Lesson for Voice Platforms

The VoiceFirst Roundtable podcast guest this week is Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Publishing fame. Mr. O’Reilly has been around since the early days of the PC and focused on educating professionals about new technology trends. That started in books and now consists primarily of conferences and online learning. O’Reilly has seen many technology waves in his three decades in the industry and he has some learnings in his upcoming book WTF: What’s the Future that are relevant to the rise of voice assistants.

Host Bradley Metrock has a wide-ranging discussion with O’Reilly and much of it centers on voice assistant platforms. One exchange seemed particularly prescient because Amazon, Google and others are working hard to build a robust ecosystem of third-party developers, software and hardware partners. O’Reilly comments:

The book is really a meditation on what we learn from the great technology platforms about the future of the economy. And one of the key things that we learn is that these platforms…really, they can’t just serve their users. They have to actually create a rich ecosystem of suppliers. Part of the reason that Microsoft became less dominant was that they kind of ate the ecosystem. It was no longer a place of opportunity. So people went over there and the opportunity became the internet.

Treat Your Suppliers Well to Create More Value for Your Customers

The key learning is that no platform can do it all by themselves. Everyone must be getting value–users, the platform and partners–for the ecosystem to be robust and sustainable. Google knew that it must sign up a long list of smart home automation partners for Google Home to compete with Amazon Alexa’s early lead in the market. Those smart home automation companies need to in turn gain access to consumers, enable a good user experience and generate revenue to stick around.

Similarly, Amazon’s Alexa skill developer rewards program addresses this important issue head on. The Alexa platform has enacted numerous restrictions on skill monetization which means that many developers might begin looking elsewhere to apply their talents. If this happens, both Amazon and its Alexa users would lose something valuable. The rewards programs seems like a stop-gap until more formal and robust monetization options are permitted on the platform.

Voice Leads to Using Computing in New Situations

O’Reilly made another comment that everyone in this industry understand intuitively but might be lost on the casual observers. The value of voice interfaces are sometime about accessing information more conveniently. However, they also lead to instances where you access computing at times when you might not if only touch or typing interaction modes were available.

I also ask routine questions – you know, ‘Alexa, what’s the weather today? What’s the weather in Boston, where I’m headed?’ These kinds of things that you can do on your smartphone, but it’s so much more convenient to be able to do them while you’re going about your business…But the issue is that you start thinking about using the information access of the internet in a context where you wouldn’t have done it before – your hands are dirty.

So, everyone needs to benefit for platforms to grow and voice interfaces are creating new opportunities for users to leverage technology in their everyday tasks. Check out the full episode below, through iTunes or you favorite podcast player.

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