Many of the most dynamic public companies, from Alibaba to Facebook to Visa, and the most valuable start-ups, such as Airbnb and Uber, are matchmakers that connect one group of customers with another group of customers. Economists call matchmakers multisided platforms because they provide physical or virtual platforms for multiple groups to get together. Dating sites connect people with potential matches, for example, and ride-sharing apps do the same for drivers and riders.
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Economists developed the theory of network effects in the 1970s and burnished it in the 1990s, and business gurus, entrepreneurs, and the tech media enshrined it as one of the guiding lights of the new economy. It works like this: a company quickly enters a new market and attracts customers, and those customers attract more customers, and so on.
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