OpenSocial – Google’s Social Networking Platform

They have blogging, they have a chat client (and chat functionality built into web-based gmail) they bought Blogspot, Youtube… it was bound to happen that Google looked in the direction of social networking.

They have released OpenSocial – no, its not yet another social networking site. Google has rightly realised that particular market is well saturated (whew!). OpenSocial is an open API for social networking applications – an interface for accessing and providing information in existing social networking services. It is aimed at forming a common base between the already existing thousands of social networking sites and applications.

A developer who creates a cool new piece of functionality using OpenSocial will be able to sell it (or provide it to be used for free) to any service that uses the OpenSocial API; we may even be able to have one master friends list used across multiple services in the future. Googles API documentation says “Usually your SPI (Service Provider Interface) will connect to your own social network, so that an OpenSocial app added to your website automatically uses your site’s data. However, it is possible to use data from another social network as well, should you prefer.” I wonder if some of the bigger names will either choose not to provide external access to their data, or will provide it on paid subscription only – and what will this mean for OpenSocial?

While I think there is a possibility of cross-communication between some of the larger services, I think the initial interest from the development community (until we get bored) will probably be focussed on the development of gadgets that can be used in several social networking services. They sound sorta cool, and developers like cool :-) Business minds won’t take long to latch onto the idea of integration between different services and common friends lists etc. It will be interesting to see whether this works out, and if so how long it will take for it to happen.

Given that Yahoo has Messenger, Flickr, Yahoo Mail (and associated services) I’m guessing they won’t be using or providing OpenSocial access to their info ;-) I wonder if they will provide some similar technology for Yahoo services…

Businesses and Social Networking

One thing that Smoothspan mentions in this Ubiquitous Social Networks for Business article is the idea that larger businesses are looking to social networking to solve flow-of-information problems internally and smaller to medium businesses may look at social networking services to maintain contact with clients and find common connections for new work.

I went to a presentation on Microsoft Office Sharepoint Services 2007 (MOSS) a few weeks ago, and the presenter made a point of how useful social networking can be internally. An example he used is the “common connections” function, where is person A needs to deal with person C for the first time, the system identifies person B as being a common connection – person A can talk to person B about how to best interact with person C. Similarly you can see projects that are common between you and another – or the management chain and how you and other people fit together under the management layers and team structures. Another example was the presence awareness built into MOSS – when viewing a document in the document library, you can see who authored it and whether that person is online – and you can contact them immediately if you have any questions or concerns.

Nothing revolutionary in terms of functionality – in fact, to a developer this is not amazing or even terribly interesting stuff. But the fact that businesses – particularly large ones – are beginning to use social networking (either at the direction of Microsoft or other vendors, or of their own accord) is pretty cool. I think its a sign of the future of business and how much web technologies and information applications will become commonplace across the board – even in many sectors that traditionally don’t use web internally day-to-day.

But back to OpenSocial!

Technologies

As usual, GData has been selected – HTTP requests providing XML responses. O’Reilly’s Radar article notes that Google is considering implementing OAuth too which looks interesting. This is the first time I’ve heard of OAuth, so I’ll have to have a bit more of a look before I can say too much about it.

Who is Using it?

You can see a full list of companies already using OpenSocial, and even watch a video of early adopters demoing the OpenSocial integration, but below are some of the bigger names that jump out at me:

Perhaps more interesting are those not using it (yet):

Is it Worth Playing With?

I know all you developers out there are asking whether its worth getting in and having a play with this. My guess is that if you’re not particularly interested in social networking (or the glory/profit of providing one of the first applications) then you probably won’t find the time investment valuable.

If you want to know more I’ve included some links of key pages I’ve found while I’ve been nosing around :-)

Resources

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