Saturday, November 3, 2007

Opening Up Social Networks

The trend towards open APIs continues this time within the social networking realm. Following the success of Facebook’s open API with over 5,000 mini applications and widgets, Google has launched OpenSocial which they define as a “common open set of APIs for building social applications across multiple sites”. Several social networking sites have already pledged to adopt these open API standards including: Orkut, Linkedin, hi5, Ning, Friendster, Plaxo and now MySpace.

A common set of APIs shared across social networks makes a developer’s job a lot easier by enabling them to implement one codebase and share their apps across multiple platforms. This in turn benefits the end user by ensuring that a rich suite of tools will be available across several social networks and affords a more integrated and less fragmented experience. It also prevents one company from forcing everyone to dance to their tune and more importantly, in any discipline, openness and collaboration foster innovation.

According to a New York Times’ article , Google was in part reacting to the success of the Facebook API within the market place in order to ‘forestall Facebook’s ability to get everyone writing just for Facebook’. It remains to be seen whether Facebook will adopt Open Social standards for its API or not. According to the NYT’s article, Facebook representatives have declined to comment.

Oracle and have also pledged their support for OpenSocial and according to a article: the participation of such enterprise-level would suggest “a crop of business-oriented social networking applications, far different from the fun-and-games orientation of most Facebook and MySpace apps”.

Whatever Google’s true motivations for pioneering open standards across APIs there is no doubt in my mind that they are doing the right thing. Data sharing across applications afforded by open APIs together with common standards will be the cornerstone of the next wave of internet innovation. Open APIs combined with the semantic web will make the next generation of web applications high on interoperability, smarter, and capable of delivering a more relevant, integrated and personal web experience. That said, the user needs to feel empowered with the new wave of applications and not as though they’re being randomly bitten by some chump unless they request to be! Developers and designers need to consider building end user choice and control into their cross platform social apps. Stay tuned for a lot more openness moving forward...

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