OpenSocial; Googles social ambitions revealed

October 31, 2007

As ever, Mike Arrington (of Techcrunch) has the scoop on Googles social ambitions (damn he must have good contacts).

OpenSocial is to be launched today, it’s the set of open social API’s that I discussed some time ago.

So what’s coming? Well according to Techcrunch (and as expected by me) it will be a set of common API’s open to developers, the applications created should be able to be used on any social network. So this isn’t a new social network, nor is it an upgrade of Orkut. Rather it’s a platform for extending those networks already out there, integrating Google properties into them and allowing cross communication. So this should be a way to create one app that will work across all the networks, rather than having to create a widget for each social networks codebase.

The details courtesy of Techcrunch:

OpenSocial is a set of three common APIs, defined by Google with input from partners, that allow developers to access core functions and information at social networks:

  • Profile Information (user data)
  • Friends Information (social graph)
  • Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff)

Hosts agree to accept the API calls and return appropriate data. Google won’t try to provide universal API coverage for special use cases, instead focusing on the most common uses. Specialized functions/data can be accessed from the hosts directly via their own APIs.

Unlike Facebook, OpenSocial does not have its own markup language (Facebook requires use of FBML for security reasons, but it also makes code unusable outside of Facebook). Instead, developers use normal javascript and html (and can embed Flash elements). 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.

Applications can have full functionality on profile and/or canvas pages, subject to the specific rules of each host. Facebook, by contrast, limits most functionality to the canvas page, allowing a widget on the profile page with limited features.

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). Hosts set and enforce their own policies. The APIs are created with maximum flexibility.

Sounds like just what’s needed to me! As well as working with Orkut the API’s will allow developers to work with Salesforce, LinkedIn, Ning, Hi5, Plaxo, Friendster, Viadeo and Oracle. That’s a pretty formidable set of services to be able to play with through API’s! And the great thing for developers is that it’s using common development languages rather than proprietary like Facebook and some other networks, this will get massive take up straight away.

This puts Google in the unique position of not owning the networks but rather being at the centre enabling them to control and push forward the usefulness of them. Something that sites very well with their company mantra.

The OpenSocial API’s should be available at this link later today.

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