I admire the chutzpah of Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's CEO. He wants to make a platform out of what started with a vision and a product--a Web-delivered CRM application. No, more than a platform. A market. To use AppExchange applications, users must be Salesforce.com customers, and to buy access to them, they have to use the AppExchange site that Salesforce.com runs. Since access to Salesforce.com and to AppExchange is delivered over the Web, the company can monitor, meter, and bill for its products in great detail.
Announcing AppExchange today (video link), Benioff compared it to both iTunes and eBay. iTunes is apt, because it's a market that drives adoption of an underlying platform (the iPod for Apple; Salesforce.com's basic CRM app for Salesforce). eBay is too, since it's a marketplace where sellers set their own prices (unlike iTunes), and each product and sale makes the marketplace itself more valuable.
But enough about the outlook for Salesforce.com. What does this mean for small business? I'm not asking, "Should you use AppExchange?" or "Should you write an AppExchange product," but rather, do you have a product or a service that can be extended to become a market unto itself? It's a nice business, if you can figure it out.