opensocial: standards-based apps for all social networks

It’s all over the wire: the NY Times and Techcrunch first, quickly followed by Om and many others have posted about the announcement that we at Ning were going to make with Google and other providers on Thursday of a new set of APIs that will be supported across all services to enable social applications.

One of the things that is really significant about this is that it’s not vaporware. While the announcement doesn’t mean immediate availability, we do have, right now applications running on multiple test environments. What is also significant is that we’re not inventing a new markup language or things of the sort: it’s all standard XML, HTML, and Javascript. This is the key to bringing a high level of portability, which we will have right out of the gate.

For example, we have a great Flixster app that we will show, which runs on both Ning and Orkut, as well as others, unchanged. This is huge.

Let me say that again: as opposed to what some reports are suggesting (Mashable mentions some of these concerns for example), these apps can run unchanged or with fairly minor changes (if you’ve gone “off-road” from the base calls) in most if not all the supported containers. Will they all be able to run unchanged? Probably not, but it’s possible and certainly something that we should all strive for.

At Ning we are committed to supporting as much cross-service behavior as possible.

Given what the APIs are, and that it will be straightforward to add support for them, I expect we’ll see lots of sites getting behind this effort. Marc Canter just said that they will support OpenSocial as well and on a related point I agree with him: we need to make these APIs deeper.

Additionally, we should make an effort to make the APIs cleanly extensible and provide a mechanism to allow the extensions to become part of the standard. I mean, it’s obvious that there will be some extensions, and it’s also obvious that some of them will have wide applicability. And when they do, it’s going to be great if everyone that wants to can jump on board.

There’s still lots of details to work out, but this is very exciting. I’ll post more after the formal announcement on Thursday.

PS: for the record, regarding the New York Times headline of people “gang[ing] up” on Facebook, I can say that I’ve never heard anything even remotely approaching that sentiment. I would certainly welcome Facebook’s support for OpenSocial, and I imagine many others would, too. What Facebook has done is great – this is going to be even better!