Saturday 3 November 2007

Being OpenSocial

I was reading feeds as the announcements and discussion started to bounce around during the week about Google's new open API for social networks. It provides a set of functions around what might be described as the three core functions of a social networking platform:

  • People - information about individual people and their relationships to each other;
  • Activities - the ability to post and view updates on what people are doing; and
  • Persistence - a simple key-value data store to allow server-free stateful applications.

So far major sites and companies like, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo,, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING have already signed up to supporting OpenSocial - and even Yahoo! has indicated that it is broadly supportive of the move (actually, I hope the create a Yahoo! Pipes connector in OpenSocial).

Of course there is also a lot of talk about OpenSocial challenging Facebook. Personally I do wonder while standards are good, are we mistaking it with the need for interoperability and accessibility between social networks? Both the Facebook and the OpenSocial API's are out there so there is no reason why a bridge between them can't be built - and its important to remember that Facebook is a destination, while OpenSocial is a connector between different social sites and applications. And lets not forget that the other social networking player, MySpace, is already part of the program.

I'm also interested to see if this API will provide a model for organisations to create their own social networking platforms - e.g. will we see IBM support this API in its social suite? Nick Carr has similar ideas and comments:

"Plenty of people have commented on OpenSocial, but not many have focused on the possible implications for corporate computing. But given the fact that the OpenSocial consortium includes Oracle,, LinkedIn, and Google itself, it's clear that businesses are an important target of the initiative. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine OpenSocial, or something like it, becoming the glue for "Enterprise 2.0," which has become (alas) the umbrella term for the use of web-based social software by companies."

However once we get past the excitement Read/WriteWeb have some concerns that its control and dominated by Google and may not actually deliver data and identity portability.

Fundamentally I think the benefit of someone like Google kicking off OpenSocial is a good thing - we can see this in the momentum that has gathered so quickly around it. But the concept of People, Activities and Persistence is simply enough that it can be replicated and for me the enterprise social networking story that plays out behind it will mean Google can't completely dominate it (well, fingers crossed anyway).

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