When Google (NSDQ: GOOG) launched its Open Social initiative last November with an impressive roster of industry partners, pundits hardly took a breath before writing Facebook’s obit. That was premature. In the intervening months, things have been pretty quiet on this front, prompting some to use the dreaded vaporware tag in describing the project. Down here at SxSW Interactive I caught up with Developer Advocate Kevin Marks, an engineer on the project, in order to learn where things stand on the project. More after the jump.
— Coming soon: “There are three large sites launching over the next month, which are Orkut, MySpace and Hi5.” These sites have been live on the developer side for awhile, but for the first time, users of these site. He noted that while things have been quiet, there’s been no slowdown in the pace of community development. “That’s the kind of stuff you don’t issue press releases about.” As for users of these sites, it may take some time before they see a major difference in their experience. Unlike the early gold rush days of the Facebook platform, it sounds like most sites will take a more measured approach to allowing apps, at least at the beginning. And some will permanently maintain a strict stance towards what apps will be available. Translation: Obviously, there will be no sheep throwing on LinkedIn.
— Facebook: “It’s not about checkmating Facebook, the goal is to make an open web for social applications.” (Note: Of course).
— Privacy: This continues to be a thorny area. “Open Social lets you run an application insider the other site with the permission of the users… What you don’t want to do with any of this stuff is surprise the user by doing something they weren’t expecting.” What Open Social does on this front, explained Marks, is standardize the process of querying user permissions, reducing stress on developers. Note the dictum of not surprising users is something Google itself is still stumbling with, having recently taken some heat for changes made to Google Reader.
— Revenue model: I was obviously curious if Google saw a revenue model down the road, particularly in light of the common knock on the company, that it’s investing int too many non-revenue projects. In particular, I wondered if one day down the road we might see Google providing paid services on open source projects, the way Linux distros like Red Hat do for the products they give away for free. So far, if there was a more direct plan to make money on Open Social, it’s not being disclosed, except only in the most theoretical sense of improving the web experience, and that being good for Google. At another point, Marks mentioned how Google’s social efforts can be melded to core Google web crawler, to create a better sense of what information users have made public about themselves on the web. That might provide a hint of a way these efforts allow the company to peer more deeply into the social networking black box, where more and more content is stored.
Disclosure: Googler Sean Carlson, who helped arrange this discussion, helped me skip the line at last night’s ridiculously packed Google party… you’d have thought they were giving away free searches or something