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October 31, 2007

Google OpenSocial will (hopefully) make social apps more relevant

by Charlene Li

Google and a slew of partners announced the formation of OpenSocial (URL will be live late Thursday), which Google's Joe Kraus, in a briefing earlier this week with me, described as "a common set of API's for building social applications across multiple sites." There are three specific sets of APIs that tap into 1) member profiles, 2) the social graph, and 3) member activities.

The idea is that developers would have to learn only one set of social app APIs and create apps that will work on any partner's platform. Moreover, the OpenSocial API is written in HTML and javascript (and supports Flash), compared to Facebook's proprietary API. Initial partners in the new API include social networking sites Friendster, hi5, Ning, Orkut, Plaxo, and Viadeo, as well as application companies Oracle and Salesforce.com.

Note that there are some major players not included, namely Facebook and MySpace. Also missing are Microsoft (aligned with Facebook) and Yahoo!, as well as other smaller social networking sites like Bebo and Piczo.

Here's my take on what this announcement means:

* Facebook isn't threatened -- for now. Application developers are going to go to where the heat is, and that heat is red hot at Facebook. They have not only a lead with 6,000 social apps already on their platform, but also close to 50 million users actively using those applications (Hitwise reports that Facebook traffic is 9X the OpenSocial coalition, but this doesn't include international traffic). Add on the third leg of the social app stool -- monetization, which Facebook is set to announce Nov. 6th -- and you have a developer's dream. Any developer worth his/her salt is developing on the Facebook platform, trying to figure what works, what doesn't. And because of this head start, developers will still develop for Facebook FIRST before developing for OpenSocial. It's similar to search engine optimization -- most Webmasters optimize their sites for Google's bots first, and then worry about the other search engines.

However, in the long term, Facebook's ability to dictate how social apps are built will deteriorate under two scenarios. First, closed platforms put a tremendous burden on developers, so the benefit of a vibrant community has to be enough to justify that extra effort. Facebook has tremendous growth and vibrancy, but it will have to sustain that in the face of increased competition. Second, as social applications will spread beyond social networks (see below for more details), Facebook will be less and less able to act as the primary destination for all social application usage. For example, Facebook may still require that the only way someone can read book reviews from friends is on Facebook via the Amazon social app, where as Amazon may be able to show OpenSocial member book reviews on its site.

* OpenSocial gives the partners a fighting chance. Now just because OpenSocial won't displace Facebook in the short term doesn't mean that it's a failure. In fact, it's just the opposite. Without OpenSocial, none of the partners would have had a chance of capturing developer time and attention.

* Developers win big time. Let's say you’re a wannabe social app developer -- you're dancing in the cubicle because you can now get lots and lots of distribution on new sites without expending a huge amount of effort. This is especially important for developers who haven't made it big on Facebook, which is dominated by early movers like Slide and RockYou. Watch for the smartest, most aggressive developers to move over to the OpenSocial platform, eager to create apps that will gain early, viral traction in these new networks.

* Social apps will go beyond social networks. Note that Oracle and Salesforce.com are also partners. They have a strong interest in "socializing" their applications  -- I've written about applications like FaceForce that pull profile data into Salesforce.com. This opens up a whole other space for OpenSocial, namely any Saas or online site that would benefit from social information. Examples would include recruitment sites like Monster.com or CareerBuilder and dating sites like Match.com.

* Things will get interesting when MySpace opens its platform. MySpace announced at Web 2.0 plans to open up its platform, but no details have been forthcoming. If MySpace decides to remain independent and not work with OpenSocial, developers will then have three APIs for social apps to learn,further disadvantaging OpenSocial. But if MySpace is smart and can set aside its competitive impulses, it has more to gain by supporting OpenSocial as a default standard and stranding Facebook all by itself.

* This isn't truly "opening" up social networks. OpenSocial is a set of APIs for developers to create social apps ON platforms that leverage data within each specific platform. One of the biggest complaints about Facebook today is that it's a "walled garden", meaning that all activities that leverage its social graph have to take place on Facebook itself. As I wrote above, imagine the utility of being able to read your friends' reviews in Amazon, or having a social graph of a contact appear in Salesforce.com applications. We're a long, long way from that happening anytime soon.

Lastly, I think OpenSocial will re-energize social networks as they broaden the activities their members can do on their sites. In particular, I'm looking forward to moving beyond the typical fun yet frivolous apps like food throwing developed by 20-something developers. I'm going to closely watch LinkedIn, as collaboration and expertise location applications built on top of its professional business networking social graph will make the site more relevant to me.

I'm interested in your take, especially if you're a developer -- will OpenSocial make a difference in how social apps are created?

Other relevant stories from:
New York Times
TechCrunch
ZDNet
ZDNet's Garet Rodgers on developing apps on Open Social "Google's OpenSocial platform is great!"
Ning backer Marc Andreessen on Open Social

Tags: Facebook, OpenSocial, Google, social apps, ,

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Google OpenSocial will (hopefully) make social apps more relevant:

» OpenSocial: GooglesMeta-Net from Changing Way
There has been much recent posting about OpenSocial. Heres some good snappy writing from Michael Arrington: a sentence on what OpenSocial is, followed by a sentence on why Google is doing it. Google wants to create an easy way for developers to... [Read More]

» What's the real deal with Microsoft and facebook from Chris Reed - ginger and proud
As it happens (and I didn't know this last night when I wrote the original entry) - it turns out that GoogleSocial is going to be their play in this whole area. I think Charlene Li's analysis is spot on. The battle ahead is going to be Microsoft a... [Read More]

» Love It or Hate It, Google's OpenSocial Signals the Mainstreaming of Social Networking from B.L. Ochman's weblog: Internet marketing strategy, social media trends, news and commentary.
Later today, Google will announce OpenSocial (link will go live soon ) and suddenly, every marketer who wants to stay relevant will need to start taking social networks very seriously indeed. In a nutshell, OpenSocial will let developers use Javascript... [Read More]

» What's the real deal with Microsoft and Facebook? from Chris Reed - ginger and proud
As it happens (and I didn't know this last night when I wrote the original entry) - it turns out that GoogleSocial is going to be their play in this whole area. I think Charlene Li's analysis is spot on. [Read More]

» OpenSocial Primer - Because the Web is Better When It's Social from Current Wisdom
Google (and others) made a huge splash on October 31st with their announcement about the new OpenSocial alliance.  This blog post is a compilation of insights and links to what som ... [Read More]

» OpenSocial Primer - Because the Web is Better When It's Social from Current Wisdom
Google (and others) made a huge splash on October 31st with their announcement about the new OpenSocial alliance.  This blog post is a compilation of insights and links to what som ... [Read More]

» OpenSocial Primer - Because the Web is Better When Its Social from iRise Blog
Google (and others) made a huge splash on October 31st with their announcement about the new OpenSocial alliance.  This blog post is a compilation of insights and links to what some of the leading voices are saying about OpenSocial. What is OpenSo... [Read More]

» OpenSocial Primer - Because the Web is Better When It's Social from Current Wisdom
Google (and others) made a huge splash on October 31st with their announcement about the new OpenSocial alliance.  This blog post is a compilation of insights and links to what som ... [Read More]

» The Psychology of Social Media - Some things Never Change from Member-to-Member
I've been harboring a theory for a while now that human beings don't change very much when they go online. It is interesting to watch MySpace rocket in popularity (catering largely to teens), followed by FaceBook (catering to college students) and mean... [Read More]

» Google Open Social - What does it mean? from A Wider Net
Googles Open Social announcement last week has potentially significant ramifications to marketers trying to tap into the social networks of Facebook, Myspace, and others. First, let me explain what Open Social is and then well go into the... [Read More]

Comments

Wayt King

This is Facebook's "Netscape moment." In 1994, Microsoft "embraced and extended" Netscape's Big Idea (the browser) with IE bundled with Win95, In Nov. 2007, Google is "embracing and extending" Facebook's Big Idea (the social graph) with OpenSocial. So I think Facebook's high-water mark was last week's MS investment at a crazy valuation, and Facebook will gradually decline in significance. Especially if MySpace adopts OpenSocial.

We are in a golden age of innovation now, where the winds of creative destruction sweep across the web ever more violently. It's a golden age for developers and web services startups. Carpe diem!

wayt

See-ming Lee

This is a great and important blog post.

1. OpenSocial is important, because traditionally social networks predominantly focus on one thing: Flickr (photos), YouTube (videos), LinkedIn (professional), Friendster (friends) but all of these social content portal neglected one thing that's equally important: none of us are specialists.

Our lives are varied, and as such unless a social network can recognize that our lives are not single-dimensional--I can it synergy or synergetic--it is only natural for all of us to find ways to link these network up (to mash them up, in other words)

OpenSocial recognizes the need to network all the networks, and I think that it will be very useful on the long run.

2. I also agree with the notion that being first means something in the historical context but does not necessarily equate long-term success.

Kit Latham (aka Tarky7) forwarded me this article the other day on the rise and falls of search engines that I think is very related to this topic:

Newsweek: Searching for the Best Engine
http://www.newsweek.com/id/62254

3. Ironically, I met Kit on Facebook randomly based on common interest. I would never have met so many interesting people if it is not for the social networks that I am at.

You will be sure that I will look forward to participating in using these open api's to develop application.

Meanwhile, I am exploring Facebook API to build my first app right now :)

Cheers,
See-ming

Taylor

It's odd that you decided to leave out a dedicated blog for MSFT/Facebook deal which lit up blogosphere last week? According to valleywag, you broke Open Social story to the NYT story, is there some preference in your coverage?

Brian Hayashi

While this does make things easier as a developer, I do wonder if participants in the industry understand the costs of coalescing standards this quickly.

Anyone remember Netscape? They thought they could do circles around IE...by the time Microsoft launched IE v3.0, Netscape would be on version 42 or something like that. My point is, some of these players whose architecture is only partially based on social network principles might have more to lose than they think.

Salesforce, f'r example, is a big, big company with lots of traction and lots of moving pieces. Some pieces will move smoothly into this brave new world, others not as much. With so much innovation pouring into the space, it's going to be a lot easier for someone with a clearer view of a social network type and not as much investment in an outdated business model to disrupt things.

Don't get me wrong -- I really love innovation. I'm just cautious, I suppose, that some of the second and third derivative effects of social networking (privacy, intellectual property attribution, etc.) have yet to be grokked in all of their proverbial fullness.

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Kurye

facebookster hmm. i really like it . but may be other applications it good

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