Ning’s Pyrrhic Victory over Widget Laboratory

Whether they’re right or wrong, I’m a bit surprised Ning thought throwing WidgetLaboratory off their site was a good business decision… especially if they’re serious about being in the platform-business.

Here’s why:

The 2 main risks in build a business on someone else’s platform are:

  • every platform’s TOS is written in such a way that they can throw off whomever, whenever; and
  • there’s no guarantee of the longterm viability of the platform.

Not much you – as a developer – can do about the platform’s viability, but at least regarding the TOS, the developer usually has 2 potential leverage points in his favor:

  1. the platform wants to attract further development, so it doesn’t want to be seen as having an “itchy trigger finger”;
  2. the developer may get big enough and integrate so thoroughly that removing the developer from the platform would be problematic and cause harm to the platform’s userbase.

But what happened here is that Ning simultaneously destroyed both leverage points for WidgetLaboratories… AND FOR ALL FUTURE DEVELOPERS.

They demonstrated that they DO have an itchy trigger finger and that they ARE willing to throw their biggest developer under a bus, even if it means doing considerable harm to their users.

In this environment, who is going to invest development resources in the post-WL Ning? First of all, you’re going to have small-time developers who have nothing to lose, but who will not contribute anything very meaningful. Secondly, you’re going to have… Ning.

If they want cutting-edge widgets and innovative functionality now, they’re pretty much going to have to do it themselves. And that’s not really why you build a platform in the first place.


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