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What Is A Platform?

A country is a platform.

This was obvious to my friend when he called me last week and asked what I was doing.

"I was just talking to the missus about how a country is a platform."
"Yeah, it is" he said, like it's old news. He's a startup guy, he knows the deal.

But the missus had just been saying how it was easy for me to say because I work in the world of tech and only techies will get the analogy. I said to her, "I got news for you, we all live in the world of tech."

You don't have to work for a tech company to post or to view YouTube videos. You don't need to know anything about tech to get a ride with Uber, or to book an apartment on AirBnB. Amazon has over 200 million customers most of whom don't work in tech. Wikipedia is read by students, teachers, and any shape of curious person there is. Don't get me started on Twitter, Facebook, Google, or, while I'm at it, the internet as a whole. Few tech products are just for people in tech, let alone platforms.

Here's the point: We all use online platforms, we all know how they work. 

Platforms bring people (users) together. If we dissect this further, we see two user types; producers and consumers. They come to the same place even though they have different roles. Imagine a one man YouTube channel with a million subscribers (he's the producer, the subscribers consumers). If we zoom out again we see an ecosystem of goods, services, conversations, rules, and transactions that culminate at a user's interaction with the play button.  The content (videos) produced on YouTube, the comments and other interaction events (video likes, subscriptions, reporting videos), and the advertisers who pay Google for the ads on videos are central to a functioning ecosystem.

Uber, AirBnB, Freelancer, Wikipedia, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook all work in similar ways to a large extent. As websites, they are not valuable in and of themselves. They need users to participate in order to be successful. But the platform is responsible for providing users with tools and with defining rules  that govern user interactions and define the overall experience. Choudary's Platformed blog goes into depth about all of this stuff and it's a brilliant resource for anybody in  tech, but his TRIE concept does help make an excellent analogy. 

A country works pretty much the same way. More complex, but still very much like an online platform. The institutions (tools) and the laws (rules) set the tone for the way in which people go about their daily lives (interactions) and on their quality of life (experience). The government is the developer while payments on the platform, of course, are akin to our unavoidable taxes.

Just like it's ignorant to say that the value of an online platform is solely down to its features and the efforts of the development team, it's ignorant to surmise that a government (read, parliament, prime minister, president, or judiciary) is solely responsible for the experience of a country's citizens.

Think about it.

There are anti-corruption laws in Romania, but citizens still give bribes. There are traffic laws in Romania, but fatal accidents are all too common on our roads. We have a consumer protection agency, but does everyone who gets swindled in a transaction lodge complaints? Granted, 'the developers' in our government are terrible at prioritizing, rolling out new features, providing support, or improving the sluggish, outdated system.

But here's the beauty of not actually being an online platform.

Every few years, we have the opportunity to change the development team. If they do a bad job with the tools and rules they set out for us, we get to hold them responsible and kick them out with our votes. If we don't do that, we can't blame anybody but ourselves, civil-society.

Everybody has a role in a country, just like  everybody has a role on a platform. Moreover, these  roles are interchangeable. The prime-minister and president are also citizens subject to the same laws and institutions. If they don't do a good job with the health-care system, for example, they need to fly out to Turkey for their knee surgery. That's embarrassing. It's like the CEO of Uber using Lyft, or vice-versa. This poor experience, as citizens, should stir their conscience as leaders to improve the situation. But, this isn't a should/could/would type of post, I just wanted to clarify with a Ponta example.

But let's talk about Ponta a bit. He's gone. That's great. But what's next?

How do we avoid another Ponta?

As long as democracy is the system of government that creates the rules and interactions in our lives, we're going to deal with elected governments that create laws and set the tone for our institutions. If we're smart, we're only going to elect people (other citizens/ platform users) who propose the best laws and who are adept at managing the our taxes to improve the institutions (the tools at our disposal). But here's the hardest part in all this: Not all of those who stand for election are qualified or able to do a good job. Worst of all, many have no intention of doing the job for which they were elected to begin with. But what about you, virtuous citizen, are you willing to stand in their stead?

Which brings me to this: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

By the way, a country is a platform. So know your role and do your part. If you don't like it, change it.


  1. Every few years we don't have the opportunity change the development team because of Lista de Partid! In May 2015 the Romanian Parliament (supported by Iohannis) eliminated the direct elections and returned to closed party lists, and democracy died.

    Closed party lists are the voting method for every level of government in Romania; from city council to parliament. They are like a virulent Communist virus causing the hopes of Romanians to live on life support.

    Closed party lists are the tools for politicians to pass laws that 90% of Romanians hate – like cutting out the heart of our nations identity – the world most beautiful forested mountains.

    Closed party lists are about two things – control and corruption. Just a few national party leaders can effectively choose every candidate on the ballot; assuring the ability to pass any laws they want.

    There is no accountability in closed party list systems. Even when nothing gets done, the politicians never change. And Romanians remain hopeless while their children leave the country.

    Change starts from the top of Parliament. Moral examples always start at the top. Parliament must start behaving like a Western democracy, not as a post-communist state. That starts with removing criminal amnesties and secret votes in Parliament. Parliament must supervise themselves through their own ethics committees, which investigate corruption among parliamentarians and approve each proposed member cabinet.

    Romanian citizens owe to their parents and children to make the deputies and senators directly responsible for strengthening anti-corruption institutions and to recover all money in each final decision. Sooner or later, our life depends on it!

    If we keep quiet, they will think we do not exist.


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