Google’s OpenSocial Pitch to Developers

A standards war is brewing in the social networking space with Google’s introduction of OpenSocial. On one side of course is Google, and on the other, Facebook. Google’s new OpenSocial platform allows third party developers to write widgets once and use them on any participating network (Orkut, Linked in, Friendster, Plaxo, etc). The platform makes sense for Facebook competitors like Plaxo who compete for eyeballs and developers with Facebook; in fact Plaxo’s activity jumped upon announcing OpenSocial support. It makes sense for small developers who are working on a bootstrap budget and want maximum exposure. It makes perfect sense for Google most of all, since they derive their capitalization value from “platformizing” the web.

Contrast this with Facebook, whose capitalization value stems largely from keeping eyeballs and developers focused on its own application. Their revenue model is tied to Microsoft‘s high octane advertising sales team, which is now part of the equation thanks to Microsoft taking a 5% equity stake in Facebook. It makes sense – Microsoft‘ has excess sales capacity, and Facebook needs to rope in the ad dollars. Facebook creates barriers to entry by having developers code for it and skipping the smaller social networks. That’s why they’ve taken a completing approach of releasing developer tools which only work within their own proprietary network.

This latest move is classic Google. They benefit from the trifecta:

1. They immediately raise the value of Orkut, their own social network.

2. They tank the value of Microsoft’s new purchase, possibly buying a stake if the equity becomes a bargain.

3. They create a favorable framework for indexing social networks, used by Google search.

Tonight Google hosted an event for the bay area Facebook developer community, hoping to siphon off the developers with the promise that the smaller guys collectively are a more enticing market than the market leader. It was pretty interesting to see who showed up – attendees included folks from Ning, Plaxo, and Spock (CEO Jay Bhatti was in attendance) . Even more interesting, more established players Etrade and Ernst & Young LLP also sent people, indicating the Fortune 500 are at least keeping an eye on developments here.

Patrick Chanezon of Google and Dave McClure, the angel investor behind 500 hats led the presentation. Chanezon started off by defining terms – he referred to data providers as objects and social networks as containers. He immediately drew a distinction between personal social networks and enterprise containers. The implication was obvious: develop for a closed network and end up with sunk costs or develop with OpenSocial and obtain an express route to cash-rich customers.

On a technological level, the platform built upon widely accepted RESTful web services which can be called via Javascript. The core services they are aiming at providing involve 3 elements: People (“who I am”), Friends (“who I know”), and Activities (“what I do”) within a framework where the goal is “10 minutes to a social network application.”Chanezon also described an extensible architecture which allows for container specific possibilities. For example, Myspace contains data regarding each individual user’s favorite movies or music, and added a number of API calls beyond the standard set. OpenSocial adopter Flixster quickly included the additional Myspace container functions to feed off the data.

Some elements of the new platform still need to be worked out. Chanezon was quick to admit that the API governance and the security models have yet to be resolved. In addition, a demo from BuyFast highlighted an issue: each container may elect policies specific to the social network, which may result in developers trying to “match” users based on having email available in one container and only name in another. In other words, the connectors work but sometimes developers have to play connect the dots based on whatever info they can grab.

Additional info is available on the evening’s powerpoint slides here, and photos here.

This entry was published on November 19, 2007 at 10:24 PM. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Google’s OpenSocial Pitch to Developers

  1. Arjun Buxi on said:

    Hi Eric,
    It was a pleasure meeting you today at the Facebook/Google meetup. Thanks for the incredible detail of your coverage, and I hope to be able to do business with you in some capacity sometime!

    Best regards and good luck,

  2. Andrew A. Peterson on said:

    It’s an interesting battle to watch.

    One proprietary API vs another and the fate of the Social Graph, at least at the moment, hangs in the balance.

    Standards for Social Connectivity… I have to bring up the Semantic Web and the pieces already in place to distribute the Social Web.

    FOAF, SIOC etc… I’m waiting for a good ‘disruptive technology’ to come along and let people rule their own data… That is, rule it, query it, crunch it, mash it…

    good reading (not me)

    Anyways… Thanks for sharing your inside info!

  3. @ Andrew, indeed it is. Abstracting it even further beyond the strategy implications for the vendors, you get a picture that Enterprise 2.0 has finally arrived. I mean it would have to, in order to become such a fierce point of contention, wouldn’t it?

    As for the good disruptive technology, I think we’re almost there. Maybe microformats will be simple enough to become ubiquitious. Too soon to tell.

    @Arjun The pleasure was all mine. I hope to see you again at a similar event, and I wish you the very best with the startup you’re launching. PLease kep us updated on your progress!

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