We talked to 27 micro-entrepreneurs in Kenya about how they use platforms (from social media sites to e-commerce marketplaces and online freelancing websites) in their day-to-day business. The platform practices these conversations revealed include: the prevalence of social media use, the intermingling of online and offline worlds, the adjustments made to tweak online credibility, and the unique approaches to upskilling. Platform product designers should
Platforms—a dozen massive ones, and perhaps 500 smaller ones—play an increasingly critical role in the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world. In almost every economic sector, platforms have introduced new “multi-sided” markets, matching buyers and sellers in attention, goods, services, and labor at massive scales. Websites and electronic supply chains are replacing bazaars and storefronts. Gig work is augmenting salaried work. Algorithms and finely-tuned digital user experiences are supercharging traditional buyer/seller relationships.
Platforms are a hot topic and for good reason. The digital “platformization” of markets is one of the defining forces of change in the shift to digital economies. Facebook and Google have leveraged network effects in social media and search to grow massive multi-sided markets in attention and advertising. Innovators such as Upwork, Uber and Kuhustle are revolutionizing the world of work. Amazon, Alibaba and Jumia are fundamentally changing how merchants sell to customers. These platforms are not only transforming online experiences but have real-world implications for users and the markets in which they work.
The Internet does platforms well. By the late 1990s, eBay was growing like gangbusters, partly—but famously—by hosting the exuberant exchange of beanie babies among collectors. Later, Facebook and Google leveraged network effects in social media and search to grow massive multi-sided markets in attention and advertising. More recently, innovators like Alibaba (direct to consumer sales) and hundreds of others are changing not only online experiences but also real-world livelihoods and economies impacting billions of people around the world.