What is this obsession with building the perfect ecosystem?

Written by on September 27, 2016 in Opinion with 2 Comments
Domenic Gebauer /FreeImages.com

Domenic Gebauer /FreeImages.com

With the widely predicted news that Twitter is looking for a home, so our thoughts turn to ecosystems. Ecosystem is a term that seems to have snuck up on us.

It seems that the next ‘Holy Grail’ is the perfect ecosystem (a term that is now one word, not two).

The question is: what is the perfect ecosystem and who is building it?

Clearly Twitter, once dubbed a ‘game changer’ by Steve Jobs is not an ecosystem. It is a fire hose of news, views, rants and raves that is rapidly becoming unusable, except possibly by Salesforce. Apparently it is a great source of sales leads.

Presumably the ‘perfect’ ecosystem is one where your customers (who, clearly, you want to be everyone) conduct their lives. It is a place where you can look for stuff*; get recommendations for stuff; buy stuff; sell stuff; watch stuff; recommend stuff; pay for stuff and get stuff delivered (as quickly as you want). The perfect ecosystem is about managing your stuff.

So, who is delivering on this perfect ecosystem?

Facebook is an obvious candidate. For almost a year now they have been publicly saying that they want their customers to do everything via Messenger (thus the appointment of David Marcus, of PayPal fame, to head up what, at the time, looked like a version of Skype). Apart from playing around the edges, however, there does not seem to be much progress with this grand dream.

Google is another, of course, with its tentacles in almost everything, from search, to phones, hot air balloons to Wi-Fi. If it could pull some of these elements together a little more coherently, then it would be a definite contender.

The trouble with these two is that they engage, to a ludicrous degree, in direct marketing (badly disguised as advertising to make it sound less intrusive). While Facebook users probably won’t defect in huge numbers because they are, literally, being sold to advertisers, they are not happy. And now it seems that Facebook has been inflating its video view figures to advertisers. And those guys might well defect, indeed some big brands are now being quite rude about this intrusive direct marketing approach and are changing their strategies.

Amazon looks good as an ecosystem. You can buy all sorts of stuff via Amazon, generally with one click. They seem much more honest than Google or Facebook about how they use customer data. They use it to recommend other stuff, and very well. They are probably ahead of the others in doing something sensible with the ‘smart home’ although some things, such as Dash, seem a little bit odd.

This leaves Apple, which is doing some interesting and clever things. It has recently integrated Apple Pay into Safari, which means that the payment part of the ecosystem is that much slicker, and secure, since you can use a thumbprint, or fingerprint to authenticate a purchase. They have also said that customers’ data is of utmost importance, and will never be shared without their customers’ express permission. Mind you, try and decipher iTunes’ terms and conditions and you will a) get a headache and b) you are cleverer than some of the finest legal minds on the planet. The cynical amongst you (OK, us) might think that this is a commercially driven initiative to achieve the moral high ground in the soon to be unveiled ‘advertising-gate’ scandal. This will put a large dent in Facebook and Google’s value, thus paving the way for an ecosystem based on trust, integrity and security. You can almost see Apple’s advertising campaign.

There are, of course, other players and large telcos like Verizon are beginning to look a lot like media players, and, perhaps, looking down the ecosystem road.

And whilst these tech giants struggle to out manoeuvre each other, to develop the perfect ecosystem, another question forms.

What for?

People like, or dislike brands. Apple, as brand, resembles a religion. They have their fanatical supporters and they have their fanatical detractors. Believing that they can do more than lock in own their supporters must be – to say the least – a little optimistic.

Facebook is, well, Facebook. It has become, like Google, a verb. It is not, and is not perceived as, an ecosystem. It is perceived as a place where you can post photos and videos of cats sneezing, family holidays and rants about American politicians.

And Amazon is still, primarily, a place to shop.

You have to wonder whether this obsession with ecosystems is like our ongoing obsession with IT, in fact, technology in general. Because we believe we can do something we will try our very best, and invest ridiculous amounts of money to prove we can do it. Examples such as desktop publishing abound.

Surely, what we want is choice and ease of use, backed up by iron clad security. What we do not want is to be locked into one ‘vendor’. No-one does. What we want is an inter-connected series of ecosystems so we can have the best of all possible worlds. Delivered by an entity that can tie them all together. Shall we call that entity, um, a network operator?

The real question should be, not ‘who can win the ecosystem race, who can build the perfect one’ but ‘why do we need a perfect ecosystem in the first place’?


* ‘Stuff’ is a technical term for, well, pretty much anything, from holidays to movies, from watches to meals.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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  1. Hugo Vaughan says:

    The perfect ecosystem is the one that can play seamlessly on the strengths of the other ecosystems. The perfect ecosystem is an ecosystem of ecosystems, and not under the control of a single entity.

    • Alex Leslie says:

      Thank you Hugo, exactly my point – although a bit near the bottom of the article….can an operator provide that seamless link to create an ecosystem of ecosystems? Alex

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