Social Ambition

Google Launches OpenSocial
by: Jerry Liao

Days after Microsoft spent $240 million to have a 1.6% stake of Facebook, Google launched their latest project called OpenSocial. A project that gave more credence that Google simply set a trap to get Microsoft overpay for its Facebook stake.

OpenSocial is not a social network itself, rather it is a set of three common APIs that allow developers to access the following core functions and information at social network. OpenSocial provides a common set of APIs for social applications across multiple websites. With standard JavaScript and HTML, developers can create apps that access a social network’s friends and update feeds.

The three APIs are as follows: Profile Information (user data); Friends Information (social graph); and Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff). API or application program interface are set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. A good API makes it easier to develop a program by providing all the building blocks. On the other hand, A social network is a map of the relationships between individuals, ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds. Virtual communities are built around affinity and similarity.

And from the definition, OpenSocial allows developers to create widgets that users can add to their profile pages. Instead of developers learning multiple APIs, they only need to learn one and can develop widgets to use across various sites.

Common APIs mean you have less to learn to build for multiple websites. OpenSocial is currently being developed by Google in conjunction with members of the web community. The ultimate goal is for any social website to be able to implement the APIs and host 3rd party social applications. There are many websites implementing OpenSocial, including Bebo, Engage.com, Flixster, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, iLike, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo, RockYou, Salesforce.com, Six Apart, Slide, Theikos, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING.

In order for developers to get started immediately, Orkut has opened a limited sandbox that developers can use to start building apps using the OpenSocial APIs.

OpenSocial is built upon Google Gadget technology, so developers can build a great, viral social app with little to no serving costs. With the Google Gadget Editor and a simple key/value API, developers can build a complete social app with no server at all. Of course, developers can also host their own application on their own servers if that’s what they prefer. In all cases, Google’s gadget caching technology can ease developers bandwidth demands should their app suddenly become a worldwide success.

The existence of this single programming model helps both developers and websites. First, developers only have to learn the APIs once in order to build applications that work with any OpenSocial-enabled website. Second, because any website can implement OpenSocial, developers have a broad distribution network to reach users. Websites also benefit by engaging a much larger pool of third party developers than they could without a standard set of APIs.

So what is the impact of this new development?

When you add up the current websites who have committed to implement OpenSocial, you realize that a developer building for OpenSocial has the chance to reach over 200M+ users in dozens of countries.

Facebook actually did the same thing except the programming language is proprietary. OpenSocial in a way shatters this proprietary thing. And for sure, OpenSocial is will become the major competitor to Facebook. What Facebook cannot afford now is to make the landscape something like Facebook vs the rest of the social networking community. Everyone else is allowing the use of nonproprietary coding platforms and portability of applications.

Will Facebook join OpenSocial? A Facebook spokesperson said: “Facebook has still not been briefed on OpenSocial. When we have had a chance to understand the technology, then Facebook will evaluate participation relative to the benefits to its 50 million users and 100,000 platform developers.” A statement that is open ended and a message of power boasting its users and developers. Maybe what Facebook failed to realize is with OpenSocial, it will have access to 200 million users, making it way bigger than any other platform available.

But how long can Facebook keep this advantage is a big question now that OpenSocial is available. I would say not for long. Facebook will and should join the OpenSocial community or everything will just fade away from them. What Facebook should avoid is to stick with its proprietary mindset and should learn from the past. Not only is being alone lonely, it is unproductive as well.

So the next big question is – Is Facebook welcome to join OpenSocial? The answer came directly from Google chief executive Eric Schmidt who indicated that Facebook can participate in OpenSocial. “The most important principle about openness is that everyone is invited to join,” he said.

So why is everyone going craZY about social networking, is there money somewhere? Can virtual communities bring revenue to these companies? Perhaps not at the moment but social networking is slowly but surely is moving to the enterprise arena – and this is where the money is. So to all the Filipino developers out there, what are you waiting for – the APIs are available so start developing your applications and let’s all shout in unison – SHOW ME THE MONEY.

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