diego's weblog

there and back again

opensocial: not just about one company

Dave comments a bit on OpenSocial, and mentions his concern about Google keeping data locked up. Marc Canter points out (correctly) that user account data would remain on each social network (‘container’) that implements opensocial.
I’d go a bit further to point out that very little about this announcement is about open data or not open data. I happen to agree with Dave (and Marc) that data should be open. Just to be clear, I’m not just saying this: at Ning, we’ve been open on that front (if not great about documenting it fully :)) from day one. Today, you can easily cook up a script to take your personal data and take it with you, re-analyze it, do whatever you want. It’s your data after all. Part of the reason we could implement OpenSocial support so quickly is due to the fact that Ning is at the core a very large set of XML/JSON APIs — the benefits of being open are not always obvious, but this is definitely one of them.

I think Dave was focused on the Data aspects because prior (incorrect) rumors about this announcement implied that Google was going to announce something to gather data from multiple social networks.

But I digress. What I wanted to add to the conversation was that Dave put a quote in there that struck me for how well it applies to OpenSocial.


How much happier we would be if instead of crippling each other with fear, we competed to empower each others’ creativity.

And that’s what OpenSocial is about, at the core–regardless of whether that was the intention all along or not, that’s what it’s become. A set of common APIs in Javascript, using HTML for display and XML for component wrapping that everyone supports in the same way, with all the benefits that entails.

OpenSocial is much less about Google v. Facebook than the announcement makes it seem. Everyone focuses on the Facebook angle, but if Google just wanted to take on Facebook, they could have done that, no? Is the Facebook thing a factor? Sure. But instead of joining a Google v. Facebook API deathmatch, Google chose to create and gather support for a set of standards that benefit everyone. They have done a great job of catalyzing the effort and getting it going, but this is now bigger than just one company announcing some APIs.

The main reason this is true: market forces.

As I said in my previous post — no doubt there will be extensions, but the nature of this market is such that if you deviate too much developers won’t support your platform. Developers in this market (iLike, Flixster, RockYou, Slide) have little if any direct ties to the container providers (Ning, Orkut, LinkedIn, Facebook), so developers really have the power to maintain things sane, since they will certainly optimize to make as few changes as possible and maximize exposure of their apps. It’s been a while since a wholly new, truly competitive market where the users have a lot of “say” in the distribution (which generally happens across notifications and Activity streams) has emerged.

It’s one of those rare ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ situation. For developers, service providers, and, more importantly, users, who get more choice in terms of what site they use, without having to sacrifice on features.

And I think it’s great news.🙂

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