Lightweight model and cost-effective scalability is a pattern that Tim O’Reilly identified as part of Web 2.0 platforms endeavours (O’Reilly, 2005, pag. 4). This pattern consist of maintaining the ability to scale quickly when required. The lightweight model implies that is not only a matter on technology, the business model of the company should be able to dinamically cater for a increasing number of user/customers.
Nowadays, cloud computing allows to rent utility computing services such as storage and computing resources tailored to the demands of the users; that’s why is affordable for Web 2.0 start-ups to rent those services on the Internet, instead of buying expensive hardware and software for its functioning. In the event of success and acquisition of a considerable user-base, the Web 2.0 platform would only need to upgrade their services in the cloud, so it could cater for more users. Facebook was based in this pattern, as was created by a few students with a small capital in Harvard University; then, as more users were adopting the platform more economical and technical resources were added to provide the needed increased power to the service.
Let’s explain this pattern better with its relation to a popular music website: last.fm. Last.fm is a music platform that uses a recommendation system called Audioscrobbler, which helps to recognise the musical tastes of user based on the tracks that they listen to, either on online radios, user’s computer and portable music devices; this information is uploaded to a database via the music player or a plug-in (Wikipedia, n.d, para. 1) where is catalogued and used to make recommendations to users depending on their tastes.
Starting small and growing from there: at the beginning Audioscrobbler was a university project of Richard Jones when he attended the University of Southampton in the UK. He developed the firsts plug-ins and created and API for the community to contribute to extend them. On the other hand, last.fm was a music site and online radio. Both merged to become a stronger company. But their beginnings were humble, start-ups with few resources making use of open source software in the case of Audioscrobbler (Wikipedia, n.d, para. 4-5).
Growing and acquisition by CBS – scaling up: By 2007 CBS, the giant american media corporation acquired last.fm for US $280m, the largest-ever UK Web 2.0 acquisition (BBC news, 2007). By this time it had been a long walk since their humble start-up and so, their user-base increased exponentially and of course their needed resources were much more, so using cloud computing to scale was the way to go to gather more storage and computing resources.
Shoemaker to your shoe: For the creation of a lightweight business model is important to consider in which aspects the platform excels and what other aspects could be outsourced to business partners; linking different business models in synergy. With this approach the platform could focus in their competitive advantage and let other contribute in what they do best. In last.fm we can find examples of this: before, last.fm had its own online radio service; but realising that there were many other online radio stations and streaming services like Spotify and YouTube that were offering a better service, last.fm decided to cut their online radio and outsource it to those providers (last.hq, 2014). As we say in spanish: “Zapatero a tu zapato” – “Shoemaker to your shoe”, meaning that anyone should focus in their field of expertise and outsource other activities to companies with better expertise. In the case of Last.fm, their focus is the music recommendation system (Audioscrobbler).
In a nutshell, the pattern is: start small, increase customer base, get more economical resources, scale up gathering more technical resources, outsource activities that are not part of the competitive advantage and grow, grow, grow but always making sure that the expansion of the company is proportional to its customer base.
Thanks for stoppping by and feel free to have your say!
BBC news (2007). Music site last.fm bought by CBS. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6701863.stm
last.hq (2014). Did someone say on demand?. Retrieved from http://blog.last.fm/2014/01/29/did-someone-say-on-demand
O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0 – Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software.Retrieved from http://oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=4
Wikipedia (n.d.). Last.fm entry. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last.fm