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Google’s OpenSocial causes a stir

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
2 November 2007

by Henry Elliss

The annoucement this week that Google is to collaborate with a number of the big players in the social media sphere to produce a cross-platform application API (dubbed OpenSocial) is causing a stir amongst bloggers and newsmakers alike. The opinion seems to be mixed, even at this early stage, and Facebook – virtually the only Social Network not to have agreed to take part – remain quiet on the subject at present.

The aim of the OpenSocial API, in a nutshell, is to make it easier for developers to develop applications that work on all websites and social networks, as opposed to just one in particular. It breaks down in to three basic Api functionalitys:

  • Profile (i.e. info about the social network / blog user)
  • Friends (i.e. who they are friends with / interact with / link to)
  • Activities (i.e. events / groups / stuff they like etc)
  • MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster and Google’s own Orkut have all agreed to take part, but the social network which popularised Social Network applications in the first place appears to have avoided jumping on the bandwagon for the time being. This may in part be due to Facebook’s recent deal with Microsoft – a deal which Google were competing to match at the time – though Google state that the deal has been over a year in the making.

    The Facebook developer platform – which has already spawned tens of thousands of applications – is a bit of a walled garden, with developers given the option to either develop using Facebook’s own mark-up, FBML and their own version of Javascript, OR to develop elsewhere and then host in iFrames. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the OpenSocial API will be developed seperately to Facebooks platform, leading to the question of whether Facebook will decide to keep going on their own (and risk losing out), or to run both their own platform and the OpenSocial platform in parallel in future.

    The fact that this announcement comes just days after the big Facebook / Microsoft deal is hardly a coincidence, and some of the official company material coming from Google does sound a tiny bit (in my opinion) like they’re feeling a little wounded by the whole thing. Or you could go with the conspiracy theorist’s route and ask whether Google was ever serious about the Facebook deal, considering OpenSocial obviously took over a week to come about. But it’s early days, so who knows what will come about over the next few weeks?

    At the end of the day, only the reaction of application developers will give us a better indication of how this battle (of sorts) will pan out. It may turn out to be a big fuss over nothing…

    If you want to find out more details, Search guru Danny Sullivan has some good coverage of the announcement on his blog, and the BBC have picked it up too so the news is obviously spreading fast.

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