Words-worth: ecosystem

By on January 29, 2013

Mobile tech firms are increasingly turning to ‘ecosystems’. John Morrish asks what are they?

Poor old Nokia. It wasn’t enough that it had to scrap its operating system and use a new one, then build it into an attractive phone, and then sell some. To compete with Android and iOS, it had to create ‘an ecosystem with unrivalled global reach and scale’. That’s the promise Nokia’s CEO,
Stephen Elop, made when he announced a deal with Microsoft in 2011.

An ‘ecosystem’ is what Apple and Google have. It’s not only a range of smartphones, but also network deals, a media store, apps, games, accessories and a gang of enthusiastic developers keeping everything buzzing.

Of course, an ‘ecosystem’ is made up of a community of living organisms, all busily interacting with each other and their environment. The word was coined in the 1930s, using the ‘eco-‘ prefix from ‘ecology’, first heard late in the 19th century, and deriving from a Greek word for ‘dwelling’.

‘Ecosystem’ stayed in the scientific world until this century, when it began to be used for groups of people working together. ‘Ecosystem’ in our current sense may be jargon, but it does the job.

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