Google is making waves in the social networking pond this morning with an as-yet-unofficial announcement about a new site-independent API, OpenSocial, that aims to make it easier to connect your profile and friends across social networks.
OpenSocial is a set of APIs that will allow independent developers to build applications that run on any participating network, using the data stored by that network. Partners in OpenSocial fall into two distinct groups: the social networks and the developers building outside apps.
Techcrunch, which posted the first details of the announcement, claims that OpenSocial’s hosts, or the participating social networks, include Google’s Orkut, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Ning, Hi5, Plaxo, Friendster, Viadeo and Oracle (for those wondering what Oracle is doing on that list, the company recently unveiled Oracle Events, which is a social network of sorts).
Developers include some names you might recognize from Facebook’s platform, including Flixster, iLike, RockYou and Slide, all of which have successful Facebook apps.
OpenSocial consists of three APIs which are designed to allow developers access to common functions and data in social networks:
- Profile Information (your personal data)
- Friends Information (relationships within the host network)
- Activities (Events, postings, news feeds etc)
OpenSocial will use various existing programming languages to facilitate access to the APIs — there’s no need to learn yet another language like Facebook Markup, etc. Developers will thus be able to build once and deploy on any participating host network.
A few pressing matters haven’t been outlined so far in the unofficial news of OpenSocial, namely how privacy is handled and can anyone build an app. Judging by how the rest of the API seems to be designed privacy and access control will likely be in the hands of the host network. As for who can create apps, that seems to still be up in the air. Given the success of APIs like those at Flickr or Google Maps, it seems likely that the OpenSocial APIs will be available to anyone who wants to use them.[Update: I spoke with John McCrea, VP of Marketing at Plaxo, and he reports that, yes, anyone can build an app]
Many pundits have been saying that OpenSocial means trouble for the Facebook Platform and the coming-soon MySpace Platform, but that’s not necessarily true. There’s nothing to stop Facebook from adopting OpenSocial and leveraging its tools.
We think it’s far more likely we’ll see pigs sprout wings, but it could happen. Rather than a competitor to Facebook, Google’s OpenSocial simply reveals the limitations and lock-in of Facebook for what they are — an attempt to corral and control your data and limit outside developers.
Although it isn’t live yet, the new OpenSocial API information will reportedly live here and is expected to be online sometime later this week.