OpenSocial – Social Unification


Google laid the hammer down by announcing OpenSocial. For those out there that thought that Facebook was the next big thing and would lead to Google’s eventual downfall, think again. Google has done it again by strategically abstracting themselves from the social network wars.

The OpenSocial API provides these services:

  1. Profile Information (User data)
  2. Friends Information (Social Graph)
  3. Activities

We’ve talked about platforms before and this is what Google has created for social networks. Instead of battling it out with Facebook by trying to directly steal their audience, Google has created an ambitious platform that is compatible with all social networks. It has been announced that all the big players: MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, Hi5, LinkedIn, Ning, Orkut (of course), Plaxo, Salesforce, SixApart, and many others have signed on to use OpenSocial.

If all things go right, it doesn’t matter who has the best social network, Google still gets a piece of the action — and the valuable data. In fact, with this announcement, Google gets in all the action. Right now, with OpenSocial, it’s pretty much all the social networks vs. Facebook. It is even plausible that Facebook may eventually join OpenSocial. However, if they choose not to, they will remain the only major, closed social network and will be left to valiantly/stupidly duke it out with everyone else.


This reminds me of a time when Apple was floundering in late 80’s and 90’s with their operating system. Microsoft set the operating system standard with its deal with IBM and everyone else complied. Remember the question: “Is it IBM-compatible?” It didn’t matter that Apple may have had the better operating system, compatibility mattered most. Luckily for us, Apple has opened up somewhat, these days by being compatible with Windows — first with iTunes and Safari, switching their Macintoshes to x86 chips (which has played a huge part in their success story), then with virtualization options like Bootcamp and third-party tools like Parallels and VMWare. Other companies that created superior operating systems, weren’t as quick to be compatible, and have suffered greatly. Notable examples are the beloved: Amiga, Atari ST, BeOS, QNX.

This also brings to mind other famous platform wars: the browser wars, the e-mail wars, the instant messenging wars, the office suite wars, and the search engine wars. In all cases, the ones that survived had to either quickly become popular by viral means or become inter-operable with existing platforms.

Google has obviously studied and learned many lessons from the wars of yesteryear. It is difficult to switch users from one platform to the next. People are tied to platforms, whether out of compatibility, necessity, or habit. MySpace and Facebook each have large, established user-bases. OpenSocial makes that somewhat irrelevant. Google can now mine the data across all the social networks (that partner with them), just as they are able to mine the data across the rest of the Web. In this way, Google is able to stick to what it does best: indexing content. Google makes more money indexing content than creating it.

Also, developers that were thinking of developing widgets and applications specifically for Facebook or MySpace now have the safety net of developing for OpenSocial, knowing that their application will continue to run on all the social networks no matter which one becomes most popular.

Though the war between Google and Facebook isn’t over, Facebook has become much less of a threat to Google with the launch of OpenSocial.

Additional details about OpenSocial can be found here and here.

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