Google to Facebook: I Want to Suck Your (Social) Blood

[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.

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