Why Are Tech Companies Trying to Be ‘Everything-Platforms’?

Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter want your undivided attention

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon has purchased super-secure messaging platform Wickr.
  • All the big tech companies seem hellbent on offering every possible service.
  • Becoming a platform is about gathering data, and locking the customer in.
Woman using Wickr on an iPad outside

Wickr

Amazon just bought messaging service Wickr. Meanwhile, Facebook is doing podcasts, Apple is making TV shows, and Twitter purchased a newsletter company. What’s going on? Data, lock-in, and FOMO.

The internet has consolidated everything. We used to have classified ads in local newspapers, and then it was all on Craigslist. There are still plenty of online stores, but the first place we visit is Amazon. We have YouTube for video, Instagram for sharing photos, and Facebook for sharing everything else. But now, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter seem to want to control everything. It’s not enough that Amazon is the biggest store on the planet. It wants to be the biggest platform on the planet. Why? 

"This combination of powers is called 'platform power.'" The model has been there for quite some time, however, the rapid accentuation of the internet in the past couple of years has increased the global reach of consumers and suppliers, creating extreme network effects," Jeroen van Gils, managing director at tech company Lifi.co, told Lifewire via email.

FOMO

For a service like Facebook, the Fear of Missing Out makes sense. Its business depends on engagement. That is, Facebook needs people to use Facebook as much as possible so it can gather data on their habits, connections, and so on. If a rival social network like WhatsApp starts to pull people’s attention away, then Facebook can either buy it (like it did with WhatsApp), or copy it (like Facebook and every other social network did with Clubhouse).

"It seems that all big tech companies suffer from FOMO—the fear of missing out. That is why you see so many of them gobbling up other tech start-ups and companies, consolidating all of that power even when it doesn't make a lot of sense," Cybersecurity Analyst Eric Florence told Lifewire via email.

"This combination of powers is called 'platform power.'" The model has been there for quite some time."

Amazon might not need to "engage" its users as much as Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, but these platforms are still rivals. Instagram is now as much a storefront as it is a photo-sharing app. You can see an ad, check out the product, and buy it, all without leaving Instagram. Instagram, itself, claims that "70% of shopping enthusiasts turn to Instagram for product discovery."

A messaging service might not seem like a perfect fit for Amazon, but in a way, it doesn’t matter. It’s enough that it makes Amazon more "sticky."

Lock In

Amazon Prime started as just free delivery, but now it’s a TV and movie streaming platform, a photo storage service, book-lending service, and more. 

Canceling Prime might not yet be as disastrous as ditching Apple, its App Store, everything you have in iCloud, your entire photo library, and all your other personal data that’s locked up in there, but neither is it as easy as resigning your gym membership.

Assuming Amazon isn’t just buying Wickr for the technology or the team of developers behind it, a messaging app just makes it harder to quit Amazon. Integration into Amazon’s other services would be a bonus, and perhaps you could even use it to ask questions of third-party vendors in the Amazon marketplace. And even if it acquired Wickr to use as part of its AWS web-services platform, the effect is the same, only the lock-in is on the corporate level instead.

Wickr Pro on MacBook and iPhone

Wickr

Another big reason for tech giants to keep gobbling up services until they all begin to resemble each other is data. Facebook is now a trillion-dollar company, based on nothing but collecting and connecting our social graphs, and our internet activity.

The more data a company can collect about you, the more it knows, and the better it can sell you products. Or sell the data itself.

The Danger

Whether big tech buys up new companies, or copies them, the result is the same. It’s also a lot harder for start-ups to compete with the resources of these tech giants. If Apple builds translation into its latest version of iOS, then it immediately cuts into the viability of translation services and apps. If Twitter and Facebook create Clubhouse clones, there’s little reason for users to try out Clubhouse itself.

While Craigslist triggered the end of local newspapers, and Amazon caused the closure of big-box and high-street retail stores, this kind of aggressive platformization may spell the end for diversity on the web. We might gain convenience, but we could lose a lot more.

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