31 October 2007

Google's OpenSocial

Or should that be Open Social? - That's what a certain Marc Andreessen (now, where have I heard that name before?) calls it, and he should know:

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.

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.

What this shows, for the nth time, is that the future history of computing is about the race towards openness, and that the company that opens up the most - as in totally - wins. Google seems to get that, even if there are still a few dark corners of its soul that could do with some sunlight.

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