The four generations of digital platforms – AirBnB, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify & Co.

Four generations of digital platforms have already shaped and continue to shape the platform economy. They all benefit from the unique competitive advantages of digital platforms, but in very different degrees of intensity. And they all change the rules of the market.

Even the first generation of digital platforms in the form of purely transaction-centered, simple marketplaces benefits from the fact that they bring different competitors to the same infrastructure in order to be able to offer customers a maximum full range. Companies like Amazon, eBay, AboutYou or Immobilienscout24 generate the so-called network, scale and data effects in a dimension that no other business model except platforms can achieve.

With its unique approach, the second generation of platforms revolutionized the economic thinking model of platforms even more intensively. On platforms such as eBay, YouTube, AirBnB or Spotify, the roles of the participants suddenly overlap on one platform: Customers can be buyers as well as providers or suppliers as well as customers (so-called multi-side effect). Each of these customer groups can be offered individual added value from participating in a platform, and this even with individual prices and remuneration mechanisms.

From the third platform generation onwards, the focus is on data centering, i.e. data-based networking. Here, data does not only act as an integrating binding agent that allows users, devices and services to work together seamlessly, but also as a basis for new income and further growth. In this sense, there are meanwhile platforms not only for private (b2c / c2c) daily needs (consumer goods and social media), but also for commercial (b2b) transactions (industrial goods and services) as well as for technical applications (such as in the context of the Internet of Things; IoT for short).

In the fourth generation, platforms are even becoming digital ecosystems, in which the provision of services takes place in a more intensive cooperation and more extensive back and forth interactions. Now suppliers are no longer just the pure manufacturers of preliminary products, in a quasi value-adding and communicative one-way street, but benefit directly from digital two-way communication with all other business partners, customers and users involved in value creation.

The idea of ​​digital ecosystems goes one step further than just looking at loose networks. In them, the provision of services only comes about through the interaction of the individual, independent partners, who do not all have to know each other directly, but only through nodes. It is about the common added value and innovation thanks to stable networks and cooperative behavior, based on a central platform.

Apple’s IOS operating system (including Apple Store) and Google’s Android represent such digital ecosystems in which many partners work together to develop even better solutions for satisfying customer needs. Here a huge number of developers can not only create their own software products, but also directly reach a large number of users. You do not need your own billing, dunning or marketing systems because Apple and Google take care of this. Conversely, customers welcome the ever broader product range that Apple or Google could not have provided on their own. This leads to new innovations and added value.

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