The blogs are ablaze with talk of Google's latest offering: OpenSocial. It's all very exciting for web geeks like me! However there seems to be a lot of misinformed opinion being circulated by people who haven't bothered to understand what OpenSocial really is. It's really quite simple. OpenSocial is NOT a social network. It is not a development platform. It's not even a website. It's simply a set of standardised APIs to let developers build mini-applications that can run in any website that supports OpenSocial. Instead of writing an application for Facebook or for Myspace, you write it for OpenSocial and it runs on Myspace and Facebook (or at least it will when Facebook decides to support OpenSocial - see below). As Jeremiah Owyang succinctly put it in his post entitled Explaining OpenSocial to your Executives:
Using mini-applications, companies can now efficiently extend their website experience to existing communities on popular social networks.
The key part of that is existing communities. OpenSocial isn't competing with anyone. It's creating a standard for social application portability. So what about Facebook? Severalpeople are drawing analogies with Apple vs Microsoft in the 1980s. By being a closed system, Apple (Facebook) could offer a more controlled and therefore nicer experience than Microsoft (OpenSocial). But by being closed they also discouraged application development which ultimately cost them the lion's share of the market. A developer starting a new social app now has the choice of 50 million users on Facebook or 250+ million users on OpenSocial. Not a difficult decision. So there's only one sensible thing Facebook can do and that is add support for OpenSocial as soon as possible. Strangely though, Facebook is claiming that Google never invited them to join. Is there something they're not telling us? Although OpenSocial is certainly a move in the right direction, it's not exactly what I had hoped for. I was hoping for a distributed social network which would provide the basic services that OpenSocial is designed to interface with; primarily, data about who your friends are (and what your relationships are to them). Instead of having friends on Flickr, friends on Facebook, friends on LinkedIn, friends on Last.fm etc. I want to have all my friends in a central place. I don't want to add apps to my profile. In fact I don't want a profile at all. I just want the apps that I use to know who my friends are and facilitate communication between us within the context of the app that I am using. So for example Flickr would help me share photos with my friends, Last.fm would help me share music, Facebook would help me exchange gossip & plan social events etc. If one website decides to try and do everything then that's fine but because the social graph is outside of the application, nobody is tied in. If a little start-up starts doing things better then it just takes a few clicks to switch. It would take a very big player to launch such a product and succeed which is why I had high hopes for OpenSocial. This is still very new territory though - Facebook only launched their F8 platform a few months ago! - so we'll just have to wait and see what happens next. This could get even more exciting! Further reading: