OpenSocial 101

Google’s OpenSocial - The Facebook Counterattack? 

If you’ve been paying attention to what is going on online, the new keyword is “OpenSocial“. Recently announced by Google, OpenSocial opened its doors to developers on November 1st, and believe me, it does deserve the websphere hype it has been generating.

Essentially, what Google did was provide a common set of APIs for social applications across multiple websites by tapping into 3 distinct sets – member profiles, social graph and member activities. Unlike the Facebook case, that uses FBML (Facebook Markup Language) in it’s APIs, requiring every developer to invest yet again in learning a language to develop a Brand presence in another Social Network, OpenSocial allows developers to use JavaScript and HTML to create apps for Social Networks. Of course, at this stage, the participants are “scarce” – but by no means unimportant! With names such as MySpace, Hi5 or LinkedIn for Hosts (the place where the Apps can be used) and ILike, Slide or Flixter for Developers (the companies that develop APIs for the OpenSocial library and key Facebook App developers), there is definitely an alarm ringing for Brands to check it out. During the initial release of OpenSocial, several examples were presented.

Of course, some noticeable names are missing, Facebook on top of them all. But I believe this is expected – this idea derived from the success of Facebook opening up API development to third parties, and let’s face it, there is little love between Google and Facebook. OpenSocial represents Google’s Trojan Horse into the private information gladly given away by users in Social Networks – the trump card Facebook held high. And with this comes the potential to extent AdSense’s lifespan. A smart move indeed.

On the other hand, while being a good concept, OpenSocial is still standing on shaky foundations. The inherent characteristics of each Social Network – simple friend aggregation, relationship between users, etc… - makes it difficult to develop an API in which the actual experience the user gets out of it makes sense on every Host. Also, since Social Graphs still aren’t intertwining, how to create APIs that are set upon the User’s social graph if this is fragmented in the various hosts? Doesn’t it ruin most of the desired effect this project would have? 

For this beginning stage, Google opened up a sandbox in Orkut for developers to test their API creation skills. What are the next steps for you, thinking about what should you suggest your Brand to do? Test, try, observe, read and let the experts deal with it in this first stage. If you have resources, get someone watching and reporting on this subject. As soon as you see a break, try to create something worthwhile for the Brand - an app that takes in consideration the possible limitations and possibilities of OpenSocial’s System. But, in my opinion, do not disregard it – if Google manages to attract the big fish into this, we could be witnessing the birth of something big – a possibility for Brands to, in a “simple” way, engage with consumers in an environment otherwise closed to them.