Operators and their Application Developer Communities

“But shouldn’t our suppliers be building the developer programs?” I hear some operators asking. However, infrastructure suppliers make money by selling boxes, software licenses, maintenance and support; those suppliers do not understand the end customers as well as the operator. If they do, then the operator will likely not be independent for long. There is a new category of ‘Application Aggregators’ that bring a menu of applications, e.g. uLocate and Useful Networks aggregate location based applications; and are dependent upon mutual service success with the operator, not selling boxes or software licenses. The bottom-line is all operators will need to combine the application eco-systems of infrastructure and handset suppliers, application aggregators and their developer communities. Only those operators in a monopoly or have resigned themselves to be a utility bit-pipe provider need not worry about such issues.

In researching application developer communities across a number of industries, reviewing with the creators and community members the successes and failures, here are some topics to consider if an operator decides to build a developer community:


  • Know your geeks (application developers). For many operators there are local SIs (System Integrator) and VARs (Value Add Reseller) already solving the customers’ problems, this is a critical group to bring on board. This generally addresses the SMB (Small Medium Business) segment, but there are also local developers applicable to other customer segments, they’re not all based in Silicon Valley or LA. And localization will become critical for an operator’s long-term success against GMAY (Google, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo!).
  • Know your early adopters. These are generally high spending customers that will trade some of their time for exclusive access to the latest applications and have their opinions matter.  This is of great value to geeks as they lack customer access that operators can provide.

Tools and Education

  • The program needs to use the latest protocols, environments and community tools. Check out Saleforce.com’s Appexchange; and Orange’s Widget, picture sharing and OpenID APIs.
    To win, an operator must educate (marketing); to educate an operator must speak (blog); to speak an operator must do/show (code examples and success case studies). The more code examples the greater the addressable pool of geeks, because less able but perhaps more innovative geeks can then “cut and paste” capabilities together.
  • Do not require registration or login to educate, only have registration if the geek wants to make money. Beta programs (without a clear path to cash), NDAs and legal documents will kill any community no matter how large the operator.

Communications and Marketing

  • Community communication by the operator needs to be made by Geeks, e.g. bloggers, writers; IRC (Internet Relay Chat) / wiki / forum addicts; regular conference presenters that draw a crowd; and have a track-record in writing code samples and helping others geeks.
  • Have a “Geek Advisory Board” with expertise in the platforms, customer verticals and known to the geek community.
  • Sell your best geeks, others will follow. Communicate success stories from the community’s launch.
    Contextual application search to help customers find preferred/certified applications that are relevant to a customer’s particular circumstance is vital.


  • Program must be aligned with the operator’s overall business goals. Metrics include things such as number of new geeks, number of downloads, number of active developers, number of transactions, revenue generated from APIs.

Biz Model

  • The business model must be baked into the API. Ultimately, the Telco API is just a big business development deal. If the Telco API helps geeks make money, then so does the operator.


  • The application developer community should not be owned by the CTO. After building the brand and the network, the application developer community is the next most important leg of an operator’s business. It must be owned by the CEO, and integrated into Marketing’s processes, so the innovations get out to the customer and are effectively monetized by the operator.

The above topics may appear obvious in building an application developer community, but the challenge is getting them simultaneously implemented.  Have a look at the many developer communities being launched against these 6 topics. An operator’s application developer community is not a lab’s project, nor something that can be released as a Beta; it’s a core business assets, on a par with brand and the network, and must be led from the top.