Why OpenSocial Is Unlikely To Dethrone Facebook

from the where's-the-networking? dept

The announcement of Google's new OpenSocial API has generated a blizzard of commentary around the blogosphere. Yesterday Mike argued that it was a smart move on Google's part because it creates a broader web platform that will be more attractive than any one social network could be by itself. However, the various news reports I've read suggest that OpenSocial is missing probably the most important element of a social networking site: the networking. Most people don't join Facebook because they want to use the latest Facebook widget. They join because that's where their friends are, and because it offers basic functionality like messages and photos. Widgets are just icing on the cake.

The fundamental problem facing Orkut, Friendster, LinkedIn and the other social-networking also-rans is that people don't want to sign onto a dozen different social networking sites to keep up with all their friends. They want to sign up with a single site and see updates for all their friends in one place. As long as each social networking site is a walled garden, only allowing users to connect with other users on the same site, the largest sites will have a huge advantage because people will naturally gravitate to the site most of their friends use. On the other hand, if several sites found a way to interoperate, so that Friendster users could be friends with Orkut, MySpace, and LinkedIn users, less popular sites would be at a much smaller disadvantage.

Of course, achieving that sort of data sharing is much more difficult than simply agreeing on a common architecture for third-party widgets. Privacy would be a big concern, and it would be a lot of work to find a set of data formats that can gracefully accommodate the wide variety of information handled by different social networking sites. But achieving such interoperability would be a far more significant threat to Facebook than the features Google appears to be rolling out today. LiveJournal founder and Google employee Brad Fitzpatrick wrote in August about what an open social networking platform would look like. Let's hope he's hard at work making sure that OpenSocial 2.0 is focused on enabling the type of interoperability he describes in that essay.

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  • identicon
    Joel Coehoorn, 1 Nov 2007 @ 4:51pm

    I work as a software developer. If I could learn the APIs for a dozen different social sites at once I could make a 'widget' that could track your friends on the other sites, accomplishing almost the same thing. This does make that possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brian Harris, 1 Nov 2007 @ 5:00pm

    and they just got myspace

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smithering, 1 Nov 2007 @ 5:09pm

    Right on the money. Joel, widgets are lame. They are a silicon valley digerati fad that we will all laugh at in 10 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nick (profile), 1 Nov 2007 @ 5:15pm

    This feature was presumably part of the open social standard. Before all of talk about open social or "open social graph" (which seems like more of a boon to developers who can now plug in to any an all social networking sites with their apps), there was talk of "portable social networks." Brian Oberkirck and Tantek Çelik were working on some standardizations before Brad Fitzpatrick's announcement around 9/21/07.

    So, you are right, there are two distinct things going on:
    -any app on any network (they are calling them "containers")
    -friending across networks

    Once a 3rd party app has enough users, (a great example is Slide.com's TopFreinds app), it could become it's own container.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ranon, 1 Nov 2007 @ 5:23pm

    What about myspace

    If the number of users was the only standard on which a social network is judged it does not explain the rise of Facebook in the first place. Before Facebook, Myspace had millions of users. That did not help them in stopping the rise of Facebook. Before Myspace, Friendster was the biggest network out there. But it was upstaged by Myspace.

    So, there is something else other than the number of users that contributes to the rise of a social network. Google is betting that the something else is third party apps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ravi, 2 Nov 2007 @ 5:04am


    In the short run, this won't affect Facebook. In the long run if the developer community is more pulled towards the google platform than the facebook platform, with Facebook not on it, it will.

    Simply put people will go, use, share the social network that offers them the best experience. They will tell their friends 'hey if we want to do this together or as a group, x network does this better'.

    This is where groups can move across social networks. For this experience better applications will be a factor, in the end each social network is an application that lets you do something (network) on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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