You can build the best product in the world, but if nobody knows it exists can it really be the best? Getting discovered can be as important as creating a great product nowadays. This has lead to many startups creating products the other way round: instead of ‘build it, and they will come’, it's become: ‘go to where they are, and build it’.
"You can build the best product in the world, but if nobody knows it exists can it really be the best?"
A great way to do this is to ‘piggyback’ top of an existing product or platform. For example, Paypal piggybacked eBay, and Buffer grew through Twitter. In fact, lots of businesses have been built upon larger platforms— from Chrome plugins to Facebook games and Slack integrations:
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Andy Cook summarises how valuable this growth tactic can be in his article “Building on Slack Saved our Startup”:
If you’re early enough to a platform and build on top of it right, hopefully eventually you’ll grow big enough to become a platform yourself.
How user experience can be affected
Whilst it’s a great growth tactic, it can also lead to large changes to the user experience of the established platform. For example, Google Adblock totally removes adds from a browser, changing the experience of reading on the web— this may be good for some people, but not for others:
[caption id="attachment_7201" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Add Blocker Plus (Image: Add Blocker Plus on Chrome Library)[/caption]
Smaller products may even take advantage of a large platform’s network, introducing unethical design practices which can create breeding grounds for dark design patterns. There are many in-betweens, and unanswered questions on ethical approaches to building products on top of established ones, so this is what we’ll explore in this article.
What we'll cover:
Part 1: Building Upon a Platform Ethically: Examples of how to build your app on top of an established platform in an ethical manner.
Part 2: Avoiding Dark Patterns: Sometimes a UI can trick users into spamming their friends— here's how to avoid that.
Part 3: Ethical Design in Add-on Products: Google Chrome is a huge platform for developers to add extra functionality— in this part, we'll explore ethical approaches to creating such add-ons.
Conclusion: Work Together to Make Better Products: To wrap up, we'll see how working together is the best way to build better tools and products.
Part 1: Building Upon a Platform Ethically
Piggybacking is a term introduced by Sangeet Paul Choudary, best-selling author of the books ‘Platform Revolution’ and ‘Platform Scale’. He coined it as such since it gives the smaller company the chance to access the large user base of an established platform, and then grow through it.
[caption id="attachment_7171" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Piggybacking concept "Udy and Emmy" by Pablo Stanley[/caption]
It’s most ethical and useful when the relationship is mutually beneficial. Both parties should add value to each other, whilst, maybe most importantly, creating a better product/service for the end user.
"Startups can piggyback on established platforms, & grow through their user base."
Let’s take a look at a couple examples to see how it can be done well:
1. Paperbot + Slack