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Social Network Wars: Google + Everyone Else vs Facebook

Google, Orkut, LinkedIn, hi5, Friendster, Plaxo and Ning Strike Back

In a move to bolster its attempt to add a social layer on top of the entire suite of Google services, Google yesterday joined other leading social networking players in introducing a common set of standards to allow software developers to write cross-network programs. According to The New York Times the sites in the alliance "have a combined 100 million users, more than double the size of Facebook."

Director of product management at Google, Joe Kraus, told the Times that the alliance's cross-network platform is to be known as OpenSocial. It is, in essence, "Google + Everyone Else vs Facebook."

Rumors has been circulating for a number of weeks about a new set of APIs will allow developers to leverage Google’s social graph data, so that third parties can start pushing and pulling data into and out of Google and non-Google applications.

One of the Google luminaries mentioned as being behind the initiative is Brad Fitzpatrick, who was chief architect of Six Apart until he joined Google in August.

The full list of partners behind the alliance, which apparently won't be announced officially until tomorrow, includes Orkut, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Ning, Hi5, Plaxo, Friendster, Viadeo and Oracle.

The APIs are due to become available shortly. Here's the link: code.google.com/apis/opensocial. [Not live yet as of this writing.] 

Raj Anand of the team behind Kwigg commented: "I’m really excited and can’t wait to get my hands dirty with OpenSocial !" He added: "Some possible issues are how they deal with spammers, who hosts the application etc. I’m confident they will have a strategy for it."

Rev2.org blogger Sid Yadav expressed it well. "With Google playing the tertiary party in the social networking game, things have just got a little more interesting. It’s a great time to be a developer."

Michael Arrington noted on TechCrunch that “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.”

Software developer Edwin Khodabakchian, who has played with OpenSocial for the past 6 weeks under NDA, today revealed:

"In a nutshell, OpenSocial is interesting because it allows widgets and applications to asks containers (iGoogle, Orkut and others) information about you, about your contacts and your friends, in a very simple and inter-operable way. It also formalizes the concept of activity stream so that some applications can contribute events and some other applications can filter them, mash them up and display them to the user.

OpenSocial is a natural evolution of shared-authentication systems: It makes a lot of sense for each application to NOT have to have its own copy of who you are, who your contacts and friends are.

OpenSocial is also a natural evolution of personalization frameworks such as iGoogle: widgets can offer much more value to users if they have a way to learn more about you and your friends."

Khodabakchian added: "OpenSocial is yet another proof that JSON-driven RESTful Web Services are the right abstraction layer for exposing services on the web and that people should look at sharpening their Javascript/Actionscript skills because that is where the next wave of innovation is going to take place.

Ning's Marc Andreessen spilled the OpenSocial beans earlier than most when he wrote a meticulously detailed blog entry entitled "Open Social: a new universe of social applications all over the web."

"My company, Ning, is participating in this week's launch of a new open web API called Open Social, which is being spearheaded by Google and joined by a wide range of partners including Google's own Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Salesforce.com, Oracle, iLike, Flixster, RockYou, and Slide," wrote Andreessen.

In a blog entry that merits reading in full, he began:

"In a nutshell, Open Social is an open web API that can be supported by two kinds of developers:

  • "Containers" -- social networking systems like Ning, Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, and Friendster, and...

  • "Apps" -- applications that want to be embedded within containers -- for example, the kinds of applications built by iLike, Flixster, Rockyou, and Slide.

This is the exact same concept as the Facebook platform, with two huge differences:

  • With the Facebook platform, only Facebook itself can be a "container" -- "apps" can only run within Facebook itself. In contrast, with Open Social, any social network can be an Open Social container and allow Open Social apps to run within it.

  • With the Facebook platform, app developers build to Facebook-proprietary languages and APIs such as FBML (Facebook Markup Language) and FQL (Facebook Query Language) -- those languages and APIs don't work anywhere other than Facebook -- and then the apps can only run within Facebook. In contrast, with Open Social, app developers can build to standard HTML and Javascript, and their apps can then run in any Open Social container.

If you recall how I previously described the Facebook platform as "a dramatic leap forward for the Internet industry", you'll understand why I think Open Social is the next big leap forward!"

Read the rest of Andreessen's blog here.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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