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The OpenSocial Era of Cross-Network Social Applications Begins

The Week in Review

We already brought word last week of Marc Andreesen's detailed overview of OpenSocial, but what of other leading participants in the introduction of common APIs to the world of social networking? Here is a round-up of what is being written, thought, and said about OpenSocial by those most closely involved either as innovators or users.

Google's Bret Taylor keynoting at AJAXWorld Conference & Expo 2007 East, in NYC.
Next year's East coast
AJAXWorld will be held March 18-20, 2008, also in New York City.

First, just a reminder of Andreessen's main point, which was that OpenSocial is quite diferent from Facebook's "walled garden" approach:

"[OpenSocial] is the exact same concept as the Facebook platform, with two huge differences:

  • With the Facebook platform, only Facebook itself can be a "container" -- "apps" can only run within Facebook itself. In contrast, with Open Social, any social network can be an Open Social container and allow Open Social apps to run within it.

  • With the Facebook platform, app developers build to Facebook-proprietary languages and APIs such as FBML (Facebook Markup Language) and FQL (Facebook Query Language) -- those languages and APIs don't work anywhere other than Facebook -- and then the apps can only run within Facebook. In contrast, with Open Social, app developers can build to standard HTML and Javascript, and their apps can then run in any Open Social container.

If you recall how I previously described the Facebook platform as "a dramatic leap forward for the Internet industry", you'll understand why I think Open Social is the next big leap forward!"
Those who follow Google developer Brad Fitzpatrick's invaluable blog of course had a preview of this entire line of thinking back in August, when Fitzpatrick wrote:
"While Facebook is an amazing platform and has some amazing technology, there's a lot of hesitation in the developer / "Web 2.0" community about being slaves to Facebook, dependent on their continued goodwill, availability, future owners, not changing the rules, etc. That hesitation I think is well-founded."
Fitzpatrick's reasoning was as follows:
"A centralized 'owner' of the social graph is bad for the Internet. I'm not saying anybody should ban Facebook, though! Far from it. It's a great product, and I love it, but the graph needs to exist outside of Facebook. MySpace also has a lot of good data, but not all of it. Likewise LiveJournal, Digg, Twitter, Zooomr, Pownce, Friendster, Plaxo, the list goes on. More important is that any one of these sites shouldn't own it; nobody/everybody should. It should just exist."
Already back in the Summer Fitzpatrick was clear that what is now called OpenSocial would be more about freeing up the future for developers than eclipsing FB:
"The goal is not to replace Facebook. In fact, most people I've talked to love Facebook, just want a bit more of their already-public data to be more easily accessible, and want to mitigate site owners' fears about any single data/platform lock-in. Early talks with Facebook about participating in this project have been incredibly promising.

The goal is not to build a social networking site or anything that's fun for the end-user. Rather, the goal is to build the guts that allow a thousand new social applications to bloom, like Dopplr, etc. Do one thing and do it well. It will be most powerful to instead merge little isolated social graphs into one big social graph and spread it far and wide, for all to enjoy.
Some of the most interesting analysis of the week was carried by Newscloud, where one regular contributor, Martin Bosworth, posted his thoughts under the title "Will OpenSocial help Google reorganize into the first Galactic Empire?" and concluded them as follows:
"Users should expect some loss of privacy in exchange for the convenience of open networking, but control must be key. If an open network is a door, that door should be able to be closed.

I should have the right to not share entries or information with people I don’t want reading it. I should have the right to block or bypass targeted ads with a subscription. I should have the right to opt-out as a default from any networking service third party that wants my current network to share my personal data. I should have the right to ensure my written and image content will not be misused or abused by the company without explanation or the right of refusal.

Most of all, I should have the right to enjoy a social network for its stated purpose–as a way to keep up with my friends, share photos, or do business–without worrying if Google or another company is going to use the time I spend there as leverage to increase its dominance of the known galaxy at my expense."
Six Apart's chief evangelist Anil Dash, like Andreessen, had been an early commentator - from the inside - on OpenSocial, stressing that "for us, it's not about Google or Facebook. It's about the web itself."

Dash continued:

"As you can guess from our announcement weeks ago that we're opening up the social graph, this is the sort of thing we believe in. Honestly, we don't care much about the political battles between big tech companies: We're doing this because this is what it takes for new features, applications, and experiences to happen in the right way for the vast range of communities that we serve. This gives regular people on the web more control over the social networks and applications they use.

By the "right way", we mean the 'open' part of OpenSocial. OpenSocial is simply a set of programming standards that let developers create applications that can run on a wide range of social networking platforms. But more importantly, OpenSocial has the promise of letting regular people choose which social networks they want to run those applications on."

Dash went on to catalog SixApart's specific take on Open Social:

  • "At Six Apart, we think the idea of using whatever applications you want, on whatever networks you want, is really powerful, and really cool.
  • There isn't going to be One Big Winner, either in social networking or in social applications -- people will be using lots of networks and apps.
  • All of us have to have open standards for these technologies in order to reach the audiences that current social networks aren't serving well. This includes international audiences, business users, and other diverse communities.
  • It's important that all users have control over which applications and networks we use, and can move freely between them with our data and connections, in a system that honors privacy.
  • As a platform, OpenSocial combines the best lessons from the popularity of widgets, the social capabilities of networks like Facebook, and the application power of successful platforms like Salesforce.com's The important story about OpenSocial is what it enables for people, not the politics between big companies."


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3rdPartyRocks 11/04/07 07:30:05 AM EST

The ultimate goal is for any social website to be able to implement the APIs and host 3rd party social applications. This is great!!