Musing lazily about platforms

What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you come across the word “platform”?

For me, there is only one answer: Howrah Station in Calcutta. Where I first learnt the joy of “platform tickets”, the practice of paying to see your family and friends off somewhere, or that of paying to welcome them back. When I was young, we didn’t think twice about piling into a car and taking a long journey (by Calcutta standards in those days), spending interminable amounts of time stuck in traffic crossing the bridge, queueing up to buy said platform tickets, then finally skipping daintily over questionable (and often smelly) wet patches. All for what? For the privilege of being pushed and jostled while waiting for a friend or family member to arrive or depart. We loved it. There was a “just for the crack” carefree madness to much that we did, and I will never forget those days.


Howrah Station platform: Picture courtesy of, a site I wander into every now and then.

Not everyone is as confused as I am. When you see the word platform, perhaps you see what Dave McClure sees:


Dave blogs over at Master Of 500 Hats, another site I wander past every now and then. My thanks to Dave for the illustration.

Maybe you’re not like me, and not like the others either. Maybe you’re like Hugh Macleod, who visualises platforms this way:


Note to self: Never trust a techie who shouts in capital letters…. (and thanks, Hugh)

People mean many things when they use the word “platform”. In days to come, we are going to have to get more and more used to seeing some other terms crowd around the platform. Terms like open and multisided; terms like apps and widgets; terms like community. Older terms like architecture and component and reuse and standardised will still continue, will become even more important, but will have morphed into something less central-control and more democratised.

That’s not going to be easy.

For people who are used to terms like proprietary and business model and billable event, it’s going to be even harder.

But just for now, we don’t have to worry. The path to the platform is blocked, by people fighting over what it means to be private in public.

So if you get bored over the Christmas break, here’s something to ponder about:

What does it mean to be private in public?

6 thoughts on “Musing lazily about platforms”

  1. Privacy in public? Ah, interesting.

    A few years ago when developing the “Forum Contact Space”, one of the team suggested the idea that privacy in a shared (electronic) environment could be considered as if it was a currency. Hence, the default mode was that you would be “visible”, but you could save up your “privacy”; the use of “privacy” was a finite, valuable resource. Other people would know you were “invisible”, but this was suggested to be yet another cue on how to decipher the equivalent of “tele-body language”.



  2. Nice! And a great improvement on the interminable ‘platform v framework’ arguments between people who had picked one word or the other for their particular implementation approach .. I saw at least 3 major rounds of this in first network management then security – what it indicated was a lack of leadership, and a lack of sufficient intent to implement.

    Will think about the ‘being private in public’ prompt. Something about appropriate personas for various virtual venues ?

    Anne Johnson

  3. I remember I just couldn’t understand the concept of “platform tickets” at first, when I was in India. What, you can’t go on the platform if you don’t have a ticket?! Madness!

    Then, after “seeing off” a few friends, I started to understand I was faced with a different station and travel culture than in my native Switzerland. Here, it’s quite sufficient if there is one person willing to take you to the station — and even then, this is some kind of a luxury at times.

    In India, I remember we’d go to the station, 8-10 of us or more, because somebody that somebody we knew knew was leaving for a few weeks.

    I grew to like the idea. It’s nice to have a whole bunch of friends to wave good-bye when you’re going off somewhere.

  4. JP,

    I suppose total privacy is not something that we can expect when in public. Let me take the example of Howrah Platform – you buy a ticket – get in – don’t need to provide any other details. However you are in person , probably with your familiy or friends or colleagues – people might watch you or perhaps over hear what you are talking and will perhaps know the language you speak, number of kids you have .They might not know about what you do, where you studied.

    Let’s look at other Platforms like say a social site – where we provide some information while subscribing. This instantly becomes public.

    Staying anonymous might be the easiest way to maintain that privacy in public but stops you being a part of many platform.

    To me staying private in public means I know what I am sharing and have a choice of what others would know about me ..

  5. Abhijit, I have never been a fan of anonymity.wherever it appears to be needed, I would rather focus on fixing the break in values that makes anonymity necessary.

    Change requires courage. The courage to stand alone. Most of the people I have admired, and continue to admire, have stood up for their values without fear, and have done it in public, they’ve been punished for it, with restrictions, jail, even death.

    So I don’t buy anonymity per se. I understand it but I would rather concentrate on fixing “onymous” rights. More later

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