Tracking the new standard in social networking application development

OpenSocial - it’s what just happened to Facebook

November 3rd, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

For so long Facebook has been looking robust - an Operating System with an ever growing group of rich, educated users and an ever-growing collection of applications. The applications were part of the genius. Any social networking site could help connect you to people you knew, but Facebook’s user experience was better - AJAX meant status updates and messages could be posted without the whole page reloading; and applications meant that users could share ideas, information, plans and experiences in ways that kept people on the site for longer.

In mid 2007 internal valuations of the business were said to be $12 billion. But Microsoft’s investment of $260 million for 1.6% of Facebook (October 24, 2007) pegged the value at $15 billion.

Then along comes Google to pull the rug from under Facebook’s feet.

Enter OpenSocial

“Applications? Ha!” dismissed Google, “Hey, every social networking site in the world can have applications, starting today!”

So OpenSocial is a set of standards that treats participating social networks as “containers” that can hold applications. As an open standard, any social network in the world can participate, including Facebook.

But the key beneficiaries of OpenSocial will be the 2nd tier (read: non-Facebook) social networking sites and developers.

The social networking sites have all realised they needed to introduce third party applications to enhance their offering, but most haven’t been big enough to entice developers to learn a proprietary programming standard like Facebook has demanded (FQL/FBML). Now all of a sudden they can integrate third party applications with minimal investment.

For developers, OpenSocial represents access to a large pool of users across a whole host of social networks. Best of all, OpenSocial is a standard that demands JavaScript and HTML - not new, proprietary languages for each social networking website.

So what is Facebook to do?

It’s probably the biggest question on the minds of Facebook’s management right now.

Facebook’s 3rd party developers won’t be able to justify continuing to plow along making FB apps and ignoring OpenSocial. The best case scenario for Facebook in the short term is that developers will continue to build applications for both platforms - Facebook and OpenSocial. After all, word is the differences between a FB or an OS app are going to be minimal.

For the big developers, this is an option. But for smaller developers, going OpenSocial alone - with absolutely no proprietary lock-in - may be tempting, at least at first.

Facebook’s 42 million members might be dwarfed by the 200 million members of the combined OpenSocial network, but Facebook have reached a scale where they could risk going it alone, but my feeling is that Facebook would be wise to adopt the OpenSocial model and compete on grounds other than application platform.

Marc Andreessen from Ning had these thoughts on how Facebook might be feeling…

“If you’re Facebook, you’d probably prefer to have that proprietary lock-in, and so this announcement may not make you that happy. However, all is not bad for Facebook, because a big part of what’s happening today is market expansion, and Open Social will definitely help fuel market expansion, which is in everyone’s interest, including Facebook’s.

Look at it this way: most users on the Internet (1.3+ billion, with 100 million joining every year) are not yet using any social networking service. The more compelling social networking becomes, the more users who will discover and start using social networking, and the bigger the pie gets for everyone, including Facebook.

Meanwhile, most software developers in the world are not yet building apps for social networks — Facebook or otherwise. The more developers who build social networking apps — Facebook or otherwise — the more apps there will be on social networks, and the bigger the pie gets for everyone, including Facebook.

It’s hard to see Facebook losing in a world of a billion or more social network users, and hundreds of thousands or millions of social network apps. And it’s also easy to see how a lot of other people — containers, and app developers — will win, as well.”

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Going back to when Facebook’s Platform was a pup

November 1st, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Google’s OpenSocial is in a large part a response to Facebook’s application platform. As such, I’ve gone back to a June 2007 post where Marc Andreessen, cofounder of Ning dissected the Facebook platform. Here is a summary of his overview, in his words…

    1. …Perhaps the most architecturally interesting aspect of the Facebook platform is the fact that everything routes through Facebook’s servers. This is known as a “proxy” model — you interact with a third-party Facebook application by interacting with Facebook’s servers which turn interact with the application’s servers…
    2. …Facebook has really thought through the API suite it provides to developers.
      You get a REST web services API that lets your application programmatically interact with Facebook’s systems and data in very interesting ways. Developers who understand web services can pick it up in about five minutes…
      You get a database query language called FQL — a variant of SQL — that lets you interact with Facebook’s databases directly. Developers who are experienced with relational databases and SQL will be right at home…
      And, you get a text markup language called FBML — a variant of HTML. FBML strips out some features of HTML, such as Javascript, and adds a new set of features that enable a third-party application page to access Facebook features, data, and look and feel elements in a variety of interesting ways. Anyone who knows HTML can take advantage of it immediately.
      This is a very sophisticated yet easy to adopt suite of APIs for a brand new platform, and demonstrates real seriousness of purpose…
    3. …There are three very powerful potential aspects of being a platform in the web era that Facebook does not embrace:
      The first is that Facebook itself is not reprogrammable — Facebook’s own code and functionality remains closed and proprietary. You can layer new code and functionality on top of what Facebook’s own programmers have built, but you cannot change the Facebook system itself at any level.
      The second is that all third-party code that uses the Facebook APIs has to run on third-party servers — servers that you, as the developer provide. On the one hand, this is obviously fair and reasonable, given the value that Facebook developers are getting. On the other hand, this is a much higher hurdle for development than if code could be uploaded and run directly within the Facebook environment — on the Facebook servers.
      The third is that you cannot create your own world — your own social network — using the Facebook platform. You cannot build another Facebook with it…
    4. …When your application takes off on Facebook, you are very happy because you have lots of users, and you are very sad because your servers blow up…
    5. …There’s the fascinating issue of the Facebook application directory — the page from which users can pick which applications they want to use…
      When you develop a new Facebook application, you submit it to the directory and someone at Facebook Inc. approves it — or not…
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A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web

November 1st, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

As Google make their OpenSocial play, it’s worth going back a few weeks in history, when “A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web” was published at opensocialweb.org:

A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web
Authored by Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington
September 4, 2007

We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:

  • Ownership of their own personal information, including:
    • their own profile data
    • the list of people they are connected to
    • the activity stream of content they create;
  • Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
  • Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

Sites supporting these rights shall:

  • Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their friends list, and the data that’s shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats;
  • Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site;
  • Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way; and
  • Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service.

The Bill of Rights is posted as a blog post to encourage discussion and evaluation. In fact, it opens with the expression, “So, let’s get the dialogue going and get as many of the major stakeholders on board as we can!” So if you’ve read the above and you’ve got something to say about it, get talking!

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From 404 to OpenSocial?

November 1st, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The speculation is that when OpenSocial goes live it will be at:

http://code.google.com/apis/opensocial

But right now the url is delivering a ‘404 (Page not found)’ message.

It’s probably one of the hottest 404 pages on the web right now.

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Google OpenSocial launch partners: hosts and developers

November 1st, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Google’s OpenSocial is expected to launch with a number of partners. So who are these partners and what do they do?

According to Techcrunch OpenSocial launch partners are divided into two groups: hosts and developers. The launch partners are identified in a photo that Techcrunch included here (photo posted below). The origin of the photo is not cited.

Below I have sourced a few lines on each of the rumored OpenSocial launch partners, for the most part in their own words:

Hosts

Friendster: “With more than 50 million members worldwide, Friendster is a leading global online social network. Friendster is focused on helping people stay in touch with friends and discover new people and things that are important to them.” Source

hi5: “hi5 is a global brand for young people, where over 50 million members have established accounts and personal pages. From Miami to Mumbai, Lima to Lisbon, Sydney to San Francisco, hi5 is the place where young people come to stay in touch with friends, meet new people, create & explore content, and express themselves.” Source

LinkedIn: “LinkedIn is an online network of more than 15 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries… (Your profile) summarizes your professional accomplishments. Your profile helps you find and be found by former colleagues, clients, and partners.” Source

Ning: “Ning is the only online service where you can create, customize, and share your own Social Network for free in seconds… We wanted to see what would happen if everyone had the freedom to create their own social network for anything.” Source

Oracle: “Oracle’s business is information—how to manage it, use it, share it, protect it. For nearly three decades, Oracle, the world’s largest enterprise software company, has provided the software and services that let organizations get the most up-to-date and accurate information from their business systems.” Source

Orkut: “Social networking and discussion site operated by Google …orkut’s social network can help you maintain existing relationships with pictures and messages, and establish new ones by reaching out to people you’ve never met before...orkut makes it easy to find people who share your hobbies and interests, look for romantic connections or establish new business contacts.” Source

Plaxo: “Plaxo, Inc. keeps people connected by solving the common and frustrating problem of out-of-date contact information. …Provides a free service that securely updates and maintains the information in your address book.” Source

Salesforce.com: “Salesforce.com, inc. is the provider of application services that allow organizations to share customer information on demand. It provides customer relationship management (CRM) service to businesses of all sizes and industries worldwide. The Company delivers its service through a standard Web browser.” Source

Viadeo: “Join 1,600,000 business professionals on Viadeo and: Find clients, suppliers, colleagues or business partners; Increase your visibility for recruiters and partners; Exchange information in professional forums; Set up appointments and organise events; Discover the background, skills and interests of the people you work with; Get back in touch with former classmates or colleagues.” Source

Developers
iLike: “Discover new music with friends: Playlists. Share iTunes playlists with friends; New Music. Get music picks and free MP3s to match your tastes; Concerts. Get notified when your favorite artists are playing near you.” Source

Flixter: “Flixster is a community for movie fans of all shapes and sizes. Whether you are a die-hard horror fan or lover of romantic comedies (or both), Flixster is a place where you can find others who share your taste and through them discover new movies that you will love. …Only a year old, Flixster is already one of the largest movie sites on the web with over 15 million registered users and over 500 million movie ratings.” Source

Rockyou: “RockYou is a leading provider of applications and widgets on the web. RockYou widgets include photo slideshows, glitter text, customized Facebook applications and voicemail accessories that are simple to use and enable people to frequently refresh their online style. Founded in 2006, RockYou has over 35 million users, serving over 180 million widget views per day in more than 200 countries. RockYou applications are customized for easy integration across all social networks including Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, Tagged and hi5. RockYou’s cost-effective, results-focused advertising platform is the largest Ad Network on Facebook and the most dynamic method for rapidly acquiring Facebook application users.” Source

Slide: “Slide is the largest personal media network in the world, reaching more than 134 million unique global viewers each month and 30 percent of the U.S. Internet audience. We help people express themselves and tell stories through personalized photos and videos created on Slide.com and viewed anywhere on the web or desktop. …Slide widgets — including Slideshows, Guestbooks, SkinFlix and FunPix — are popular on top social networking and blog platforms, including MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Tagged, Piczo and Blogger. Slide is also the leading application developer on Facebook with more than 63 million applications installed, including SuperPoke and Top Friends, the most active application by more than four times that of any other 3rd party developer.” Source

OpenSocial Launch Partners
Image from Techcrunch

UPDATE: Several blogs are also mentioning Xing and Newsgator as launch partners.

UPDATE 2: Well, every one of the above did turn out to be launch partners, but it turns out the complete list was 70 individuals and companies long.

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OpenSocial - A key play in Google’s social networking strategy

October 31st, 2007 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I first read about OpenSocial this afternoon on Techcrunch. In summary:

“It is a set of common APIs that application developers can use to create applications that work on any social networks (called “hosts”) that choose to participate.

…The benefit of the Google approach is that developers can use much of their existing front end code and simply tailor it slightly for OpenSocial, so creating applications is even easier than on Facebook.

…OpenSocial is silent when it comes to specific rules and policies of the hosts, like whether or not advertising is accepted or whether any developer can get in without applying first (the Facebook approach).”

I’ve blogged at my own site about my desire to see social networking “platform neutrality” and Google’s OpenSocial represents an industry heavyweight steering social networking in that direction.

I figured a dedicated blog was in order so I set this up. I’d like to see this blog document the way key players in the social networking space respond to Google’s OpenSocial - either through participation or competition.

Seems like it’s going to be an interesting ride!

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Open Social is Google's attempt to become the centre of social networking. The program's launch partners constitute top social networking application developers and 2nd tier social networking hosts.