Of Temple towns and IT platforms!

A couple of weeks earlier I had the chance to visit the Pallakad Chariot Festival. This an extraordinary event when the devatas (the idols) on chariots are carried into the town – an occasion where Gods come to meet people as opposed to the general practice of people going to worship the Gods in the temple. The festival is a local favourite with close to a 100000 people visiting the city – ostensibly to have a “darshan” , but also to serendipitously meet friends on one of the hallways, indulge in some “impulse shopping”, feast on some of the local cuisine and generally have a good time. In short, it is almost a religious carnival going by the camaraderie, colors and variety of wares on display.

The shops that spring up are predominantly makeshift ones – sublet by the residents in many cases to nomadic craftsman. As are the food stalls – they sell whatever is seasonal and available locally (of course the ultimate soul food of popcorn and candy is available everywhere – this is an ubiquitous food after all!). New jobs become available (putting up a shelter, chariot mechanics, new car parks, repair services, guides, cooks, bookshops) and there is a force-multiplier of economy. Interestingly, most of the money created stays within the community – the goods (crafts, idols etc.) and services (tea/ coffee/ local snacks etc) trade have significant local diffusion.

  • As I happily strolled across, it struck me that there were several levels to this architecture:
  • The temple trust that provided a “platform” that made the festival possible. Central to the idea of the festival is a beloved God, a “chariot” and the rituals. Without these, the festival couldn’t take place at all – so significant attention to getting the right procedures, priests etc. is required. Also needed are some “institutional” patrons who can help fund the occasion and tap into the community mindscape to drum up support and enthusiasm from the community
  • The goodwill of the community is critical. The platform should coexist with the community –the communities need access to the festival, security and amenities. The community should not be put to too much distress with the sudden scaling that would happen. All of this requires significant organization and good infrastructure to be available
  • And once we have the above architected well (robust hero product, resilient infrastructure, motivated community), then the economic and social activity truly takes off. And these take off in a “self-organized” manner – the central authority (the temple for instance) may not even be aware of the multitudes of individuals who partake and make the occasion successful. And yet the community and the authorities step in when required (they cannot allow thefts for instance, it would bring the whole crowd down).

All of this is so akin to the IT platform product and “micro-services” architecture that are popular today. Micro-services are available through APIs – its upto the user to consume them as he sees fit – provided it’s legal and within the overall framework of course. One service then draws another – a kind of cross sell where you browse through some hand-made crafts and walk over to enjoy sugar-cane juice at the next counter. None of the micro-service vendors are a threat to the product or indeed the platform – they are symbiotic at best. If this is true, some analogies accrue:

  1. The platform creator has an idealistic goal – in the words of Guy Kawasaki “to make the world a better place!” Making money is important, but there’s a wider, more idealistic vision
  2. It has one or a few “hero products” that help make the platform sustainable and also find a few patrons who help expand the potential of the platform
  3. A community then self organizes around the platform and the “hero product” – they have some common binding – language, interests, vocation whatever. The community is incentivized (mostly by making it cool to be associated with the platform) to participate, bring friends and family and use the platform more
  4. Vendors appear on the stage to take the platform even further. They provide services that render the platform more valuable to the community while enjoying the security, community base and patterns that the platform enjoys.
  5. The cycle continues even further becoming a virtuous circle. Once the platform is up and running and a critical mass of community Is present, promotion at an external cost is not required anymore. The product is the promotion – word-of-mouth, free trials, gift cards, competitions and such become the model that carries it forward

The more I think about it – we’ve got more to learn from bazaar’s, temple festivals and community endeavors when understanding digital organizational models?!!

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