December 28, 2023

Notes on Platform Development

I spent the past few years building a platform for Loop components within the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. While some of the learnings might only apply to our particular scenario, I think some observations apply broadly.

We’ve been using 1P/2P/3P to mean our team (1P), other teams within Microsoft (2P), and external developers (3P). Loop started with a set of 1P components and we set out to extract a developer platform out of these that can be leveraged by other teams. We currently have a set of 2P components built on our platform, and a 3P developer story centered around Adaptive Cards.

In this blog post I’ll cover some of my learnings with regard to platform development.

1P != 3P

Aspirationally, we set out with the stated goal of 1P equals 3P, meaning 3rd party developers should be building on the same platform as 1st party developers. Looking at it another way, if the platform is good enough for 1st party, it should be just as good for 3rd party - this is a statement of platform capabilities and maturity and a lofty goal.

That said, I don’t think this is realistic, especially within a product like Office, where user experience is paramount. That is because we have two audiences to consider: we have the developer audience - users building on our platform, and we have Office users, people who get to use the end product. Mediating between the two is quite a challenge.

A simple example is the classic performance/security tradeoff. Especially as Loop components are embedded in other applications, what level of isolation do we provide? Loop components are built with web technology. An iframe provides great isolation (best security) but iframes add performance overhead (worse perf). If we host a Loop component without an iframe, we get better performance, but we open up the whole DOM to the component. If we threat model this, we immediately see that we don’t necessarily need isolation for Loop components developed within Microsoft (we don’t expect our partner teams to write malicious code) but we absolutely need to isolate code written by 3rd party developers. Of course, we could say “just isolate everything”, which might even have other advantages, but do we want to take the perf hit? Our other audience, people who use our product, would be negatively impacted by an overhead we can technically avoid.

Another example in the same vein: overall user experience. The more we make Loop components feel like part of the hosting app, the smoother the end user experience is. On the other hand, we can’t realistically test every single Loop component built by any 3rd party developer. The way Office services and products are deployed and administered, tenant admins can configure which 3rd party extensions are enabled within the tenant. The Microsoft tenant we use internally has set some set of extensions available, but not all. That means there are always 3rd party extensions we never even see. Now if one of these extensions doesn’t work properly (errors out, looks out of place, is slow etc.), end users might end up dissatisfied with the overall experience of using Office products. For internally developed components, we get to dogfood and keep a high bar, but this doesn’t scale to a wide developer audience. Our current approach is to offer 3rd party development via Adaptive Cards. This way, we don’t run 3rd party code on clients and we have a set of consistent UI controls. Ideally, we’d like to enable custom code but this at the time of writing we’re still thinking through the best approach considering all of the challenges listed above.

Finally, I think another key difference is the product goals. The platform audience are the developers, but the product audience are the users. There’s usually a tension between these. For example, an internal team builds a Loop component. They come up with a requirement that is a “must” to deliver their scenario. For example, we had a component developed by a partner team that asked us to check the tenant’s Cloud Policy service to see whether the component should be on or off. This makes perfect sense in this case, since the backing service might not be running in the tenant. We offer tenant admins a different way to control 3rd party extensions, so this platform capability would not make sense for a 3rd party. In general, a lot of our internal platform capability requests come from the desire to provide the best possible end user experience. If our only customer were the developers using the platform, we would probably say “no” to some of these - not general enough, doesn’t benefit 3rd party etc. But, of course, Office has way more users than developers.

I think the 1P/3P challenge is common to most platforms built from within product teams (or supporting product teams within the same company). With Loop, this is compounded by the fact we are deeply integrated within other applications. I can think of some notable examples when the strong push for a “1P equals 3P” platform ended up disastrously - Windows Longhorn was supposed to be built on a version of .NET that was just not good enough for core OS pieces. I can also think of many platforms that provide sufficient capabilities for 3rd party developers but 1st/2nd party developers don’t use. And I think this is OK - building a platform for 3P lets you focus on the developer community needs. Supporting 1P/2P might be best served by focusing on the product goals and unique scenario needs rather than trying to generalize to a public platform.

Life stages

A platform goes through several life stages, each with its own characteristics and challenges. Looking back at how our platform evolved (and how I foresee the future), a successful platform goes through 4 life stages: incubation, 0 to 1, stabilization, and commoditization.


At this stage, it’s all one team building both the what-will-become-a-platform and the product supported by this platform. During the incubation stage, the platform doesn’t really have any users (meaning developers leveraging the platform). We are free to toy with ideas. If we want to make a breaking change to an API, we can easily do it and fix the handful of internal calls. At this point, everything is in flux - the canvas is blank and we have plenty of room to innovate.

On the other hand, we don’t really have a clear idea of what developers would need out of the platform - we know what the main scenario we are supporting needs, but we don’t have a feedback loop yet. At this stage, we need to rely on experience and intuition to set some initial direction.

0 to 1

This is the biggest growth stage. “0 to 1” is a nod to Peter Thiel’s Zero to One book. The platform goes from no users to a few users - and by “users” here I mean developers. Taking the platform from 0 (or incubation) to 1, means supporting a handful of “serious” production scenarios.

We now have a feedback loop and developers able to give us requirements - we can now understand their needs rather than have to divine them ourselves. As a side note, this is the approach we took with Loop, where we worked closely with a set of 2P partners to light up scenarios and grow the platform to support these.

At this stage, it’s already difficult to make breaking changes. Since there are already a set of dependencies on the platform, a breaking change requires a lot of coordination. Or some form of backwards compatibility. Or legacy support. There are different ways to go about this (maybe in another blog post), but the key point is we can no longer churn as fast as we could during the incubation stage. And added costs at the 0 to 1 stage are painful.

Another challenge is generalization. We have a handful of partners with a handful of requests for the platform. And we’re in the growth stage, so we most likely need to move fast. There’s a big tension between how fast we can light up new platform capabilities and how much time we spend thinking through design patterns and future-proofing. If we just say “yes” to every ask, we can move fast but risk ending up with a very gnarly platform that has many one-off pieces and a very inconsistent developer story. On the other hand, we can spend a lot of time iterating on design and predicting how an incoming requirement would scale when the platform is large, all the way until our partners give up on us or funding runs out. There is no silver bullet for this - you always end up somewhere in the middle, with parts of the platform that you wished were done differently, but hopefully still alive and kicking in the next stage.


At this point, enough developers depend on the platform that ad-hoc breaking changes are no longer possible. By “stabilization” I don’t mean the platform stops growing - in fact, this is the stage where we get most feedback and requests. But while the platform continues to grow incrementally, changes become even more difficult as they can break the whole ecosystem.

There are now enough user that early design decision that proved wrong become obvious, but it’s too late to change them. This is a natural “if I knew then what I know now” point for any platform that can’t really be avoided.

This is the point where most platform start producing new major version numbers that aim to address large swats of issues and add new bundles of functionality. But while during the incubation stage, a change could land in a few days, and in the 0 to 1 stage maybe weeks or at most months, breaking changes at this stage take years to land - many developers means not all of them are ready right-away to update their code to the newest patterns. The platform needs some form of long-term support for older versions and deprecation/removal becomes a long journey.

On the other hand, the core of the platform is stable by now and battle-tested. The final step is the platform becoming a commodity.


At this stage, the platform is mature and robust. A large developer community depends on it and the platform is mostly feature complete. Some new requirements might pop up from time to time, but not very often.

At this stage developers rely on existing behaviors and change is next to impossible. That’s because a lot of the developer solutions are also “done” by now and people moved on. Nobody wants to go back and update things to support API changes. The platform is a useful commodity.

This is also the stage where active development slows down and fewer engineers are required to keep things going. We haven’t reached this stage with Loop, we are still growing the platform and moving fast. But any successfully platform should reach this stage - a low-churn state where its capabilities (and gotchas) are well understood and reliable.

Each of the stages require a different approach to evolving the platform. The speed with which we add capabilities, churn, how updates are rolled out, how we design new features - all happen in different ways and at a different pace depending on where the platform is and its number of users.


In this post I covered two main aspects of platform development: the tension between supporting 3rd party developers and ensuring end users have the best possible experience; and the different stages of a platform. As usage increases, changes become more difficult and early decisions solidify, for better or worse.

If I look at other platforms, I can easily see how they went through the same growing pains and challenges.

I’ll probably have more to write on the topic of platform development, since this has been my main job for a while now.