Platform Rules: Multi-Sided Platforms as Regulators
Executive Summary — Using case studies of Facebook, Tokyo's Roppongi Hills "mini-city," Harvard Business School, and TopCoder, a vendor of outsourced software products, Boudreau and Hagiu explore how multi-sided platforms (MSPs) regulate an industry ecosystem. An MSP is a platform that enables interactions between multiple groups of surrounding consumers and complementors. As the authors demonstrate, the regulatory role played in these cases by MSPs was pervasive and at the core of their business models. That regulatory role goes beyond price-setting and includes imposing rules and constraints, creating inducements, and generally shaping behaviors. These various non-price instruments essentially solve problems that could otherwise lead to market failure. The authors' analytical framework suggests a two-step approach for a platform owner: (1) maximize value created for the entire ecosystem, and (2) maximize the value extracted. "Platform Rules" is a chapter in the forthcoming book Platforms, Markets and Innovation, Gawer, A. (ed) (2009), Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, U.S.: Edward Elgar. Key concepts include:
- The scope of strategy for multi-sided platforms is significantly wider than for normal firms. It is not limited to pricing, product design, and technology, but also and critically includes control over interactions that do not happen at the firm's boundaries.
- There is a wide array of strategic instruments available to implement MSP regulation, including contractual, technological, and information design.
- The need for and consequences of MSP regulation may evolve over time.
This paper provides a basic conceptual framework for interpreting non-price instruments used by multi-sided platforms (MSPs) by analogizing MSPs as "private regulators" who regulate access to and interactions around the platform. We present evidence on Facebook, TopCoder, Roppongi Hills and Harvard Business School to document the "regulatory" role played by MSPs. We find MSPs use nuanced combinations of legal, technological, informational and other instruments (including price-setting) to implement desired outcomes. Non-price instruments were very much at the core of MSP strategies.