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[qi:021] Maybe Google should have doodled a vampire on their home page today, in honor of Halloween and their announcement of OpenSocial, a set of APIs that allows web developers to write applications once, then deploy them on a variety of different social networking platforms. This […]

[qi:021] Maybe Google should have doodled a vampire on their home page today, in honor of Halloween and their announcement of OpenSocial, a set of APIs that allows web developers to write applications once, then deploy them on a variety of different social networking platforms.

This could be a direct attack by Google (GOOG) on Facebook’s F8 platform — an attempt to combat a giant among social networks by bulking up potential competitors like its own Orkut or, more likely, by building a super-network composed of multiple competitors. That’s what it tastes like on first bite.

Perhaps Google’s longer-term strategy, though, is to weaken dedicated social networks like MySpace (NWS) and Facebook not by animating a Frankenstein-style competitor but by spreading social features everywhere, sucking out the social life in drips and drops. If every application and web site is social, Facebook becomes just another place to socialize online, not the one that rules them all.

According to the New York Times, Google does plan to work social features into the entire web:

[Google director of product management Joe Kraus] said that over time Google hoped to bring other social elements to Web applications, whether or not they run inside social networks. Analysts expect other Google services, including iGoogle, to be equipped with social features eventually.

OpenSocial, as announced, is fairly modest: It makes it possible for application developers to write an embeddable application, then plug it into a variety of different platforms, including Ning, Orkut, Xing, and LinkedIn. The profile, activity, and relationship data of each platform doesn’t therefore become available externally or portable across platforms. No universally accessible online social graph comes out of this, not yet.

It’s a little hard to see how this could lead to a dethroning of Facebook (or MySpace either) given that the big benefit from social networking doesn’t lie in tossing hot potatoes or playing online word games — in other words, not in the embedded applications, though those applications add some value. The basic value for users lies rather in what the social network itself does, such as allowing people to share things about themselves, track their relationships, and interact with each other.

Social interactions and social information don’t have to be centralized onto one site though; they can be spread across the web (as they already are, of course, with tools like email, instant messaging, topic-oriented discussion forums, blogging, and so forth). OpenSocial could be the language that the web-as-social-network speaks — and if that happens, Facebook might look a bit anemic.

Also read: Dave Winer on Open Social: Standards devised by one tech company whose main purpose is to undermine another tech company, usually don’t work.

  1. It obviously remains to be seen how successful this whole OpenSocial thing really is. It’s pretty easy to get excited about it and get caught up the hype — especially when a name like Google is involved. I can’t help but think Facebook isn’t really going anywhere… switching costs are too high and I think it’s nice having just one place to come to where you can generally socialize and interact. I’d like to think of Facebook as a home page for social web interaction. There are a lot of unanswered questions about this idea of, as you say, “web-as-social-network.”

    If anything, the OpenSocial standard merely cuts the development time and costs for developers trying to go get on other networks. I can’t complain about that, but as a developer, I’m not sure how appealing sites like Orkut, LinkedIn (talk about conservative), and Hi5 are.

    Guess time will tell.

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  2. Thanks Anne for this refreshing point of view! OpenSocial is a first step towards what I call the “Object Oriented Web” but it is still very far away. About social interactions you mentioned, there is one killer-feature-still-missing-everywhere, the “Spread” button:

    http://blog.kindalab.com/2007/10/26/information-spreading-through-social-networks/

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  3. Right, Boris, who knows if this will get any traction at all. I don’t personally find Facebook all that useful, because my social interaction online is spread across a bunch of different tools — Twitter, blogging, wikis, discussion forums, etc. There are many benefits to centralizing in one place, of course, like security and privacy and keeping one main contact/friends list.

    Could be that web-as-social-network and Facebook coexist.

    I am intrigued to see how social applications embedded into non-social-network platforms might function. What will iGoogle look like when it’s socially enabled, for example? What might web email look like with more social features? That’s where I think the web-as-social-network gets interesting.

    Manuel: great article… especially your points about the necessity of a “spread” feature and combining a user-centric with an object-centric approach.

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  4. OpenSocial, Or Not

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